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City clears out community garden in dispute over grass height

Rochester, NY (WROC)- Antoinette Ena Johnson built Enazi’s Natural Farm to help transform Rochester’s Marketview neighborhood.

“It was a food source, a teaching source; it was a place where little girls came and would help me plant seeds,” says Johnson.

But after taking a walk to check on her garden last night, it was gone.  The planters and food beds had disappeared, wood piled up by a tree, with rocks and dirt leftover.   Johnson says the drastic result came after arguing with the city over her grass height earlier this week.

“They told me to cut it and I told them I would get to it, but I don’t use gas on my land and they decided to cut all my grass today,” she says.

The city of Rochester issues permits residents to use city land, letting gardeners revive neighborhoods with beautiful flowers and community gathering places.  The permit states a preference of grass maintenance around 3 inches, but if it grows taller than 5 five inches then gardeners “will be contacted for immediate action.”

Johnson says she got a phone call from Rochester’s Division of Real Estate and admits to expressing her frustration with the process, asking for information about the possibility of growing wheat instead of grass.  Instead without a fine or formal notice her garden was cleared out.

“All of our hard work for the last two years in feeding the community, just gone,” says Shawn Kelly, a fellow gardener.

Some neighbors complained the organic garden’s grass height was drawing rodents.  City workers who got orders to clear out the space did so with the understanding that it didn’t meet code but reportedly stopped when a neighbor approached and informed them it was garden.  It was too late in Johnson eyes.

“Someone could’ve talked to me or at least waited,” she says.  “Given me time to fix it and say, ‘Oh well obviously you don’t want to fix it, so it’s taken.'”

In a neighborhood with bright spots like Sofrito Garden just a block away, there are blight spots– like this vacant house across the street, where the grass is overgrown.  Now with one less garden, Johnson says she’s too frustrated to rebuild:

“Like why would I want to plant anything now… At this point… They left my tires though, they left the tires.”

The City of Rochester spokesperson says Johnson’s permit has not been revoked.


written by: Natasha Alford