Letters to the editor

Where have all the flowers gone?

On April 12 — a spectacular spring day when the beautiful flowering crab-apple trees around Pack Square were in full bloom — the Pack Square Conservancy cut them down. This was the same area of the city park where citizens successfully fought to stop the Grove Park Inn from building luxury high-rise condos in 2003.

Public outrage that the city would cut the trees and sell part of our park occupied local politics that year. Thousands of residents signed petitions against building on that site, and over 1,100 signed a full-page newspaper ad against it. City Council at the time supported the sale, but the public prevailed.

In early 2004, during public-input sessions regarding the renovation of the Pack Square, two-thirds of the public participants said there should be no building on that area of the new park. However, the Conservancy had other plans, and at the final public-input session, the decision was reduced from “no building” to the choice between a one-story or a two-story visitor center/pavilion. Dismayed that once again our voices were being ignored, our only consolation was that, at our insistence, the existing trees were to be saved. The drawings showed a pavilion with a large stand of trees behind it. Little did we know that the beautiful crab-apple trees that we asked to be spared would be sacrificed.

Although their mandate is to conserve Pack Square as a public park, and even though a new Chamber of Commerce and fabulous visitor center was already planned, and now has opened within walking distance, the Conservancy chose to destroy these mature, beautiful flowering trees to put up another commerce center/visitors pavilion.

With behavior like this, it is clear that we are a long way from having meaningful citizen input in the development processes. Sadly, and too often, public-input sessions are held to give the impression of true democratic participation, but once the meetings are over, the flip charts are stored away and the public input is never implemented.

During this same time in 2003, while citizens were busy saving a portion of Pack Square, 12 acres of Richmond Hill Park were being deeded to the National Guard to build a new armory. We asked that year for the city to put all of its parkland in a conservation easement in perpetuity. Nothing was done.

When will they get it? Public parks are for people, not developers! How can we, as citizens, stop the city from selling or giving away what we the citizens own? How can we ensure that our public input is meaningful and our choices implemented?

We need that conservation easement, or at the very least, an ordinance that would require the following before the city could sell, develop or give away any parkland:

• A 90-day public information/input period with a summarized written report.

• A referendum requiring a vote from the citizens.

• A super-majority vote of City Council.

It’s critical that we do something now! It will be too late when the last tree is cut and the last acre of parkland is given away.

— Julie Brandt
— Elaine Lite
Co-spokespersons, Asheville PARC

Organic straight talk

In “To the Victor, the Soils?[Xpress, April 19], Cecil Bothwell again sadly demonstrates his total lack of knowledge, research and information when writing his so-called “Garden” soliloquy.

Just like (and possibly because of) his failed experiment with hydroponics — which we financed — Mr. Bothwell doesn’t bother to get his facts straight regarding the availability of organic garden supplies in the Asheville area. Frankly, I don’t know how he found out that we carry Ferry Morse seeds, since he has never set foot in our new store. Fact is, organic seeds are now available at Ace hardware, Home Depot, Lowe’s and [basically] every corporate hardware/garden store in the United States. If those are the corporate giants you serve, instead of the small businesses, then you are indeed a hypocrite.

To set the record straight, we (The New Age Garden Center) carry a plethora of organic fertilizers (OMRI certified and otherwise), amendments, pesticides and soil additives numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands. From praying mantids, ladybugs, various types of earthworm castings, five kinds of bat and sea-bird quano, bone meal, rock phosphate, seaweed, kelp liquid and meal (granular), numerous fish additives and emulsions, coir fiber, organic potting soils, organic seed starters made from composted willow bark, organic enzymatic inhibitors and so on — the list is so long that it could take up more room than all the ad space we have purchased in your paper over the four years we have been an organic supplier, which is why we advertise as being an organic supplier.

We have also been instrumental to one small, local manufacturer of organic earthworm liquid castings, Blue Ridge, in becoming a nationwide brand, and are the only store in the nation that offers horticultural lamp disposal. We are also proud to be suppliers for students and professors of Warren Wilson College, UWNC, Biltmore Estate kitchen gardens and numerous other master gardeners and customers who travel far and wide from South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and numerous other states to shop with us exclusively.

I question the ethics of a so-called “independent” weekly comparing and favoring a corporate, non-local entity to a purely local, family owned and operated mom-and-pop shop. I also question the lack of journalistic impartiality of promoting one store over another and wonder if it is because we can’t and don’t afford flashy, color half-page ads to fill the coffers of the Mountain Xpress (in order to pass our savings on to our customers), or is it simply ignorance on the reporter’s part?

I suggest you get your facts straight about the people who pay your wages or risk losing their dollars [and] support — and being labeled a hypocrite.

— Julia Brooke Childs
Swannanoa

Cecil Bothwell replies: In the course of my research for the story, I visited The New Age Garden Center in early April and spoke with co-owner Biff Childs at considerable length about organic supplies for outdoor gardening (and purchased a packet of basil seeds). The only such material he offered was the worm compost/casting product mentioned in Brooke-Childs letter. While the store does indeed stock a wonderful variety of certified organic materials and supplies, most of what was on display seemed best suited to hydroponics, container and small-plot gardening, rather than yard-wide applications discussed in my article. Biff helpfully suggested I contact the vermiculture wholesaler to obtain larger quantities and gave me the proprietor’s phone number. All of the establishments referenced in my story are local, small businesses.

Groveling for gravel

In response to Cecil Bothwell’s April 19 gardening article, “To the Victor, the Soils?“: Instead of speculating as to why anyone would be silly enough to spread gravel over what used to be some excellent topsoil, it’d be better to ask the city why they insist that any licensed businesses (even those home-based businesses unlikely to ever have two visitors at the same time) have a minimum of two parking spaces, both of which visitors can get out of without jockeying the cars around.

Also, before you move that shed, Cecil (unless you intend to just get rid of it), ask yourself why it’s in the middle of the yard. It’s because the city has a 10-foot setback rule to give the Fire Department some maneuvering room.

I feel your pain, guy. Every time I tried to make the yard more attractive — or at least meet my needs — I ended up making it less attractive and higher maintenance. The prime lesson I’ve learned from that postage-stamp-sized yard and the house is: Hire it done whenever possible. The emotional and physical cost of every “small” project was always huge whenever I tackled it all by my lonesome.

When you’ve got the gravel picked out of the back yard (I highly recommend hiring the kids across the street!), you’ll find that the soil is actually pretty rich and deep. I had “tried” to create a circular driveway around that shed, but could never get enough gravel on it to keep from getting stuck in the muck after a rain. If you need extra soil to fill in after the gravel is shifted, start behind the former garage, where gravity keeps pulling soil down against the cement foundation. Technically, there’s supposed to be at least eight inches of cement showing above the ground before the siding starts. I was able to get it hoed out enough to get my green sticker after having the falling-down garage rebuilt into a studio, but that’s been a few years.

Daunting. That describes my feelings most of the 20 years I lived there. I’m so glad to pass the maintenance torch on to someone else. Good luck, guy.

— Jackie Britton
Asheville

Animal surveillance program must be stopped

I oppose implementation of the National Animal Identification System that is being mandated and implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture, under the guise of protecting the food supply of the [country].

Agribusiness, specifically the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, lobbied the USDA (after 9/11 and subsequent [bovine spongiform encephalopathy or] BSE scares) to create the NAIS, supposedly to protect U.S. citizens and their animals from diseases. The NIAA is composed primarily of two groups — large corporate producers, and the makers and producers of animal ID equipment. Small-scale farmers involved in animal husbandry, homesteaders and animal hobbyists were not represented.

I oppose NAIS because:

• Should this become law, we will be forced to pay fees to register our farms and animals. “Even with public funding, there will be costs to producers.” (“NAIS Draft Strategic Plan,” p. 11)

• We will be forced to report to the national animal records repository within a short-term, the specified timeframe the birth, death, loss of identification device, sale or movement of any animal in our possession.

• We will be required to report when an animal we own attends a livestock show, participates in a trail ride, is transported to another farm for stud service or takes part in a community parade, etc.

• Our personal information collected through NAIS could be disclosed: “The USDA cannot assure the confidentiality of all the information at the present time.” (“Strategic Plan,” p. 15) Financial institutions were not able to keep this information confidential, so it is no surprise that USDA cannot guarantee confidentiality.

• The NAIS will violate the religious beliefs of minority faith communities by requiring them to become part of this computerized, technology-dependent system or to abandon the livestock ownership necessary for their way of life. (Many adherents raise their own food animals and use animals in farming and for transportation. Some, by scriptural teaching, would refuse to take the “mark” of such a numbering system.)

• Our livestock would become part of the “national herd.” (“Strategic Plan,” p. 8)

Small farmers and back-yard-flock/herd keepers are facing a serious threat to their way of life. The government is proposing a Mandatory Property and Animal Surveillance Program that will require the registration of property and individual animals, even if you have only one chicken, pig, cow, etc. This must be stopped, or all small farmers will be driven out of business.

Stop animal ID. NAIS is unconstitutional and immoral.

— Nancy Shirley
Topton

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