Troubles in Eden

Arlington’s alternative lifestyle gardeners are trying to make peace with the man.
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Posted March 5, 2014 by CAROLINE COLLIER w/ PHOTOS BY BRIAN HUTSON in News
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When Shellie Smith moved into the two-story house on three and a half acres of land in remote southwest Arlington in 1996, she was living a different life. She and her then-husband, a pilot, wanted to raise their two children in the country. In those days, their little piece of earth was fairly rural.

The house sits behind tall trees and hedges on Mansfield Cardinal Road, which was not paved back then. Confusingly, the house on the road named Mansfield has a postal address in Kennedale, but it’s actually within the city limits of Arlington.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Smith and her house are still caught between worlds. The family home is now called the Garden of Eden. There, she, Quinn Eaker, and Inok Alrutz manage an organic farm with bountiful year-round yields of vegetables.

The Gardeners turned refuse into rich soil for growing crops.

The Gardeners turned refuse into rich soil for growing crops.

A roving cast of farmers and those curious about permaculture gardening regularly visit, some staying longer than others. The garden produces more than residents can consume, and they prefer to share, rather than selling the excess. Over the last several years, they have fed hundreds of people for free.

The Garden’s inhabitants say they are transforming more than the usual way of producing food. They live together in the house with Alrutz and Eaker’s two young daughters, and Eaker balances relationships with both women. The adults contribute to a magazine called Rethinking Everything. There, they explore new forms of interpersonal relationships, how to cleave one’s life from reliance on fossil fuels, and communicating with the inner entrepreneur.

Part of their worldview requires producing more than they consume. The Gardeners don’t generate much waste. They don’t use paper plates or aluminum foil or almost anything that can’t be composted and cycled back into food production.

In one light, they live in a peaceful world of their own creation, where life is simple, even on the border of a metropolis of seven million people, most of whom throw away far more than they create.

In another light, that under which the City of Arlington enforces its rules, they are hoarders, the garden a blight and a potentially shady operation in an increasingly upscale corner of town.

The expanding city is creeping closer. Mansfield Cardinal Road is now uniformly concrete. A new development with muted brick houses sits behind a concrete wall a few blocks away. Two new developments, advertising homes in the $300,000 range, will be built in the neighborhood starting this summer. A few hundred yards away, the city operates the Tierra Verde golf course. Were it not for some trees, golfers would be able to see the bamboo-fenced garden plots and large black statue of a meditating Buddha.

Despite the semi-urban environment, the feeling is pastoral. The northwestern sky offers an unhindered view of the sunset. The area’s skyscrapers and raised highways are invisible. Distant traffic is audible, but barely.

Some city officials do not find the garden to be a tranquil place. Their Code Compliance Department has been sending Smith notices for three years for a variety of violations, from overgrown grass to lack of hot water. The total amount of fines currently exceeds $20,000. She has a court date set on March 13 and plans to argue that the offending tall grass is necessary to shade her fruit and vegetable plants. As for the rest, she believes she should be able to do with her property what she wants.

Last Aug. 2 at around 7 a.m., Arlington police unexpectedly stormed the garden, but, as it turned out, code violations were apparently the least of the officers’ concerns. More than 50 officers, armed with military-style weapons, cut through the chain-link gate and flooded into the house, where everyone but Eaker was still asleep.

The officers rounded up and handcuffed all the adults, including five visitors. The police left a guard over a sleeping toddler and newborn while they took Alrutz downstairs.

No one knew why the officers were there — surely not to argue about code violations? A misdemeanor court case for those had already been set. The residents repeatedly asked the officers what justified the invasion but got no answers.

Several hours later, when police finally produced a warrant, Smith learned that her home had, seemingly overnight, turned into the front line of the war on drugs.

She and the other Gardeners had been accused by a confidential informant of operating a large-scale marijuana growth and distribution operation. At the end of their 10-hour raid, though, police had found no evidence of any marijuana or other drugs. After the narcotics investigators left empty-handed, the city’s property abatement team proceeded to mow part of the garden.

While police officers detained her for several hours, Smith repeatedly asked them, “Why are you doing this?”

“I can’t believe that they would actually think that this was the thing to do, that this was an honorable thing to do,” she told Fort Worth Weekly.

When the officers replied that they were just doing their jobs, that they had to put food on the table to feed their families, Smith said she explained to them, “I’m feeding my family and a lot of other families, and I’m not holding a gun to anybody’s head.”

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6 Comments


  1.  
    JMT

    Makes my chest tight.




  2.  
    toby

    Thank you for this well-written story. I’d like the option to view and save as a single page for my records.




  3.  
    Fred

    Typical assimilation by force BS. Arlington needs to leave them alone.




  4.  
    Kelly

    If you live in an incorporated city, you’re expected to adhere to basic rules and regulations. I don’t agree with how the City of Arlington has done what they have, but there comes a point at which, if you’re defying an ordinance, you’ve got it coming. It isn’t like this happened overnight.

    The best thing “The Garden” can do is relocate to Oregon. They’ll fight riiiiggght in.




  5.  
    Bill

    These government types..code enforcers need to wake up and smell reality. Everyone likes to think our civilization is so advanced and untouchable..but if you open your eyes, you realize that having the “city” supply your water (pumped with electricity) and electricity, is one huge glaring achille’s heel. Power outage means power outage for a whole neighborhood, or even city. All of these supposed modern technologies are vulnerable to solar flares, storms, or even “oh my god” terrorist attacks. What this farm is doing is intelligent. It’s getting back to basics, and if everyone were doing this instead of trying to impress with their $300,000 homes and phony personalities we might actually become a strong country again. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, certainly you can acknowledge that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and having these “modern conveniences” depends on supply chains, government budgets and oversight and many other factors that are both more fragile than those in power would like to admit and more unsustainable as the urban sprawl continues to stress it. Look at how many water restrictions have been in place in the DFW metroplex over the last few years…if you dig swales in your yard, slow the flow of water, create deep,rich mulch for your beds and do rainwater catchment, you aren’t reliant on these outmoded technologies that worked great when you had a smaller population. The sad thing in this case, is that if the crap really were to hit the fan, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if these same “code enforcers” and yuppie scum were the same sorry jerks begging for food from someone who actually does know how to survive…or worse show up at gun point and take it. All I can say coming away from watching this story from afar is that I’ll not do any business in Arlington because I think it’s shameful the way they treat their residents.




  6.  
    T

    As is often the case, this story of abuses of government authority and taxpayer funded resources belie some other real reasons other than “enforcing city codes” and fighting the so-called “war on drugs.” It is very likely that profit-driven private interests with close connections to the city are really what’s behind this assault on a property owner who they see as being in the way of their profitable plans and must be forced out using all available means at their disposal, namely humiliating them in the eyes of neighbors with the major day long raid and constant patrols by police and code enforcement cruisers that “a person with ordinary sensibilities” would conclude involve major criminal activities on the part of the people owning and living on the property.

    Many of the people owning these RURAL 3-acre tracts are retirees who will be scared by all the perception of “criminal activities” involving violent criminals and likely decide to sell at a discount their increasingly valuable land so they can remove themselves from harm (50 military-style cammandos raiding a house is more force than at the Waco/Davidian compound). The Gardeners will be so bogged down by all the bureaucratic and legal hassles that the City, with all their many resources, have unleashed that they too will likely be forced to sell and move, especially with the crazy amounts of fines reaching the five figure mark, monitoring and harassment, and the energy and time required to defend themselves against actual (and accidental or intentional slipping in of other costly charges that the City clerk acknowledged were going to last a couple of years).

    For those sub-division cookie cutter city dwellers who condemn these gardeners about their code violations, you need to remember that this area is located way out in the edge of the city in a rural area and close to one vehicle junk yard in Arlington, with several more just across the city limit in the next city mentioned in the article. The city has not cared about this area UNTIL developers started to buy up land to create another “exclusive planned community” with a golf course and one subdivision with $300k+ homes squeezed into tiny lots. Just imagine how much more profit (and tax revenues) could be made by acquiring these remaining 3-acre lots and slicing them into teeny tiny lots and erecting 2-3 story houses that consume a lot of energy, especially in triple digit heat (remember heat rises). Yes, they violated some codes, but those codes are meant to urban neighborhoods + none, except one (highly questionable after the many lies made by city officials) of their neighbors even noticed, much less bothered by how they used their property.

    It seems like a well-coordinated pretext to drive the gardeners out while also causing enough fear in their neighbors to get them out as well. I’ve seen this before in Fort Worth when the code enforcement and police raided the house of the family that was fighting to stop a massive gas pipeline from being forced under their and their neighbors’ homes on a residential street. The City was tight with the gas driller and had made all kinds of plans and agreements –until this family stopped them in their tracks and delayed their plan that probably costed millions in lost profit and tax revenue. After they held up the plan in court, some of us living nearby noticed code enforcement making frequent drive bys of those people’s house. A neighbor helping them make improvements on their house–they planned to sell in case they lost in court and didn’t want to live just steps from a 20″ gas pipeline– said they got harassed constantly by code enforcement and even police based on frivolous and often baseless “complaints” that kept them busy (and looking back probably to distract and exhaust them, one of them was disabled we heard) fighting these tickets and letters to “abate” so-called violations, which were mostly treated lumber to replace their porch flooring, backyard deck, and railings. When the city and the gas drilling company got desperate, they terrified that family by bringing about 20 people, including police cars and code enforcement cars that lined the whole block. People were talking about a drug raid for days because of what they saw. We heard later that the police yelled at one parent and their toddler to move their car so they could go wherever they wanted on their property threatening them with losing their car and with violence as they had their hands on their weapons. Neighbors across the street said the man fled in their car with his toddler, barefooted and in their sleeping clothes. The neighbor saw them load up hundreds of dollars, if not more, of new lumber and other valuable construction tools and freely used his water to cool themselves in 103 degree heat. It was scary to see, even from just driving by a couple times a block away for me. The other interesting thing was that the city coincidentally was tearing up that man’s street when the news about the gas pipeline was announced and attracted a lot of tv news coverage, which showed the street and the neighborhood to look much worse than it really worse, which made some of my co-workers to conclude that it was no big deal to put such a huge gas pipeline in since “it’s a dying street anyway.”

    Someone told me that the code compliance department said that they were not targeting that family, which I found laughable since their officers would have to drive right by several properties that were not doing home improvement projects but one was using in plain sight their extra empty lot tas a dumping ground for the trash they hauled off from their construction jobs, another guy was living on a corner house and was “scrapping metal” every day, while two doors down a guy had garbage piled up in a trailer parked in the driveway. Never mind the corner house on my street that was falling down and was used by the old woman’s son as a meth lab and office for his prostitution ring on E. Lancaster. But it didn’t look any of those properties or people were ever bothered because they kept doing everything the same thing for years. I also heard that the family that got raided didn’t even get a warrant or anything for what happened to them. They did stop that dangerous pipeline somehow and moved away soon after.

    The profit-driven developers want those 3-acre lots and the city of Arlington is using the tried and true method of abusing their government authority to traumatize, humiliate, scare, and fine the gardeners and their neighbors to giving up their properties for a fraction of the value so their private corporation buddies could come in and “generate tax revenue” –and a lot of profit..off of private property owners just living their rural way of life for decades. This isn’t too different from the use of eminent domain for private gain in the Carter Avenue pipeline fight involving that one courageous little family. BTW, police are allowed and trained to lie in trying to solve a serious crime or getting leads but lying has become such an integral part of their culture that they lie ofte and in spite of the facts or the law. They need to be sued for violating these people’s civil rights so that they won’t do that to other citizens..INCLUDING THOSE WHO APPROVE OF THEIR TACTICS AGAINST THESE GARDENERS BECAUSE YOU COULD BE NEXT.





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