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

Smith grew up in the mountains of Colorado. There, “living a very sustainable life was just normal,” she said.

She moved to Texas in 1996, relocating for her husband’s job. She took care of the kids while her pilot husband worked. She tried to pass the lessons of a simpler existence to her children. She “unschooled” them, meaning that at home she encouraged them to learn about things that interested them rather than following a regimented school curriculum.

Smith kept a small garden, which she let wither during the summer, and she regularly mowed the grass on her property, a three-hour task. She drove the highways often, running typical errands and driving her kids to assorted activities. “I did a lot of expending energy,” she said.

Eaker agrees with that description. “Supporting the petroleum mega-machine,” he added. A neo-hippie, he philosophizes at length about how the average Western lifestyle is bad for the planet.

The marriage was happy for a long time, but eventually Smith and her husband grew apart and divorced. “Times change, you know,” she said of the experience. Her adult kids moved out a few years later. Now 53, she has plenty of remaining youthfulness to enjoy.

Around the time of Smith’s divorce, Eaker left Colleyville, where he had been unschooled before a stint at Colleyville Heritage High. He moved to Los Angeles to work as a fashion model; between shoots, he read, absorbing books about redefining spirituality and embracing new modes of existence.

One day, as he describes it, his perception of everything changed. “All of a sudden, I became aware of how aware I was,” he said. “My whole world just imploded on itself.”

So he left everything behind. He told his agents he was done with the cameras and embarked on a rambling journey around the country.

“I had to go somewhere beyond the mediocrity of human existence,” he said. “I was reprogramming myself.”

One lesson involved surviving on very little money. Another exposed him to how much trash our culture generates.

Around 2007, ready for another phase, he returned to his parents’ home. Soon after, he connected with Smith at a conference about unschooling. That summer, he moved into her house.

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Having been outside of the mainstream culture for so long, Eaker was especially horrified by Smith’s $800 electricity bill, which he used to persuade her to change her consumption habits. Smith says the bill was an anomaly, but she did soon cancel the cable, then the alarm system.

Alrutz and baby Ino sneak a fresh snack from the garden.

Alrutz and baby Ino sneak a fresh snack from the garden.

The hot tub was abandoned next. She left the car parked in the driveway for weeks at a time. She and Eaker hung around the house, cooking and crafting pottery. Eaker occasionally earned money by speaking at conferences about new life alternatives, and the two were able to live on that money plus her divorce settlement.

They eventually discussed reviving Smith’s garden, but Eaker had a bigger idea: to build a large organic farm based on “wildcrafting” principles, like shading crops with tall grass and creating soil by composting whatever sources of carbon and nitrogen they could find. During his extensive reading and wandering, Eaker had learned about this natural method of growing food.

The next year, they expended energy not on mowing or watching television, but on creating composted soil by hand. They would drive around Arlington with a trailer and collect bags of fallen leaves. They left plastic drums behind grocery stores and asked employees to throw fruits and vegetables that were past their sell-by date in the drums instead of in the dumpster, where the organic potential would eventually be locked for centuries inside of a landfill.

“We transformed every inch of that soil by hand,” Smith said. They piled newspapers, junk mail, and grass clippings, then watered and turned the pile with shovels while regularly adding nitrogen in the form of decaying produce.

They transformed the “junk” into fertile soil for growing everything from tomatillos to pomegranates. Friends gave them seeds for things like kale and arugula. They visited seed exchanges, plenty of which exist in the area, for sweet potatoes and organic heirloom tomatoes.

The initial harvest was a success. The next year, they collected and dried the seeds from the best plants and repeated the process.

“What we’re doing here is supporting a holistic, symbiotic relationship,” Eaker said. “A circle of life with nature itself in a way that is beneficial for our human experience.”

A few years later, he met Inok Alrutz while on vacation in Sedona, Ariz. She left her gig managing an art gallery and, pregnant with Eaker’s daughter, moved into the Kennedale house.

The three adults began operating what they called the Uber Dank café out of the house. Rather than a traditional for-profit dining establishment, it was a place for friends to congregate and eat homegrown food. The Gardeners advertised the events to their online circles and offered to feed people for free or accept donations.

“We just wanted people to experience how amazing food can be,” Eaker said. They say they were perfectly happy with what some would deem an extremely alternative lifestyle.

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What to the Garden of Eden residents was paradise seemed like a hazardous eyesore to someone at Arlington city hall.

In 2011 Smith received her first notice of a code violation due to tall grass, bags of leaves, and other composting materials. She invited Neal Lucas, the city’s field operations manager, and Curtis Jones, the department’s regional block patroller, to visit. She showed them the garden and explained how they had cultivated the soil from decomposing materials.

Smith said Lucas looked around and told her he wanted to start a garden of his own.

Eaker and daughter Qiqi share a playful moment.

Eaker and daughter Qiqi share a playful moment.

Lucas and Jones eventually warned Smith that she needed to correct a handful of violations, and she told them she would. In the end, however, although she cut the tree branches hanging over the road, she ignored the orders to mow her grass.

She locked her gate and posted a “no trespassing” sign, so code compliance would not be able to return. She had decided she did not want the city to dictate how she could grow food on her own property. The city kept sending letters demanding the grass be cut and “extraneous” materials removed.

The Garden residents kept shading their crops with tall grass. They eventually quit buying food from the grocery store altogether. Some visitors would barter grains and chips in exchange for the crops. Mostly, the guests ate fresh fruits and vegetables prepared in innovative ways.

Eaker would explain to guests the process of growing the food, which he says some guests commented was unusually rich in flavor.

He says education is part of the Garden’s mission, and he takes every opportunity to criticize monoculture, in which large fields containing a single crop supposedly increase yields.

“In order to keep the food alive, they’re using mass amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to kill bugs, to kill weeds, and to provide nutrients to the soil that exists there,” he said.

At the Garden, they didn’t do any of that. Their plants got water, sunshine, shade, and a little TLC. By all accounts, the plants were better off in the permaculture environment. Smith marvels at how the okra grew an inch overnight, how they would discover gargantuan squash under the plants’ leaves.

We wanted to “blow people’s minds, blow people’s mouths, their taste buds,” Eaker said. He explains that they didn’t really make any profit at the café. They were excited about what they were doing and wanted to share.

“We had people come from all over the world to see what it is that we’re doing and to understand how we utilize these materials that we don’t go out and purchase,” he said.

While friends stopped by the garden often, the trash truck rarely did. Jones kept reappearing, however, in the form of an accumulating pile of code violations.

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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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