In an email to supporters, Black Star Farmers flagged a Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) plan to “destroy” the Black Lives Memorial Garden (BLMG) starting Friday to perform turf renovation. Three years after the 2020 resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the community garden in Cal Anderson represents one of the last relics of the CHOP/CHAZ era, and the gardeners won’t let their garden go without a fight. 

“There is power in a monument, in a promise, and in a community garden, and even more so a statement made in its removal,” one garden-goer said in an email. “It expresses a rejection. A return to a status quo of a green lawn [rather] than a seen community. The goal of turf restoration pales in the face of the danger of losing community trust in the rejection of a meaningful monument.”

A Three-Year Turf War

Black Star Farmers, a small coalition led by sustainable agriculture expert Marcus Henderson, has stewarded a small but thriving garden in Cal Anderson for more than three-and-a-half years. The garden has continued the legacy of the occupied protest of 2020, grown pounds upon pounds of free produce and herbal medicine, and reintroduced native plants to promote a healthy, local ecosystem. The place also happens to be a cool spot for lefties to hang out and organize. 

Black Star Farmers asked supporters to show up to the park on Oct 13 to defend the garden and to sign their petition. “This is our collective space, and now we must organize and act accordingly,” they wrote. 

This is not Black Star Farmers’ first spat with SPR. The City tried to remove the garden in July 2020, when Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered cops to sweep and dismantle what remained of CHOP/CHAZ. SPR tossed much of the community’s garden infrastructure and memorial signage, Black Star Farmers told The Stranger. The City continued to press “one-sided negotiations,” asking the gardeners to move their plants to the outskirts of the park. 

Earlier this year, SPR offered the gardeners a new spot behind Rainier Community Center, more than five miles away from the historically significant original site.

Black Star Farmers declined the offer, but SPR is no longer giving them a choice. 

No More Mr. Nice Parks and Rec

On Oct 4, SPR emailed the gardeners, saying the department would start removing the garden on Friday, Oct 13. SPR said the notice gave Black Star Farmers two weeks to carry their garden to Rainier Community Center. They even offered to help move the plants!

In an email to The Stranger that the City delayed to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a Parks department spokesperson added: “Please know SPR respects the intent and the symbolic meaning of the BLM garden and that should Black Star Farmers be interested in creating a garden within the Seattle Park system, we are supportive and willing to help them in finding an appropriate location.”

SPR may say they respect the garden’s symbolism, but Black Star Farmers argued that moving the garden at the behest of the City actually runs counter to its original spirit, which seeks to recognize the “legacy of occupation protests led by Black and Indigenous peoples” and serves as a “manifestation of our communities’ right to self-determination.”  

Moreover, Black Star Farmers wrote that if SPR carried on with the “forceful displacement” of the community garden, then they would be complicit in the systemic harms leveled by imperialism, colonization, and gentrification. 

But What About the Movie Nights?

SPR does not seem to think the situation runs that deep. While SPR plans to reseed the area for turf restoration, the department told The Stranger that the City wants to revive the “sun bowl” where the garden sits to its intended use—a natural amphitheater for large gatherings and events. That space sometimes hosts movie nights and concerts, according to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. SPR also claimed that its “community engagement” process found that “the community” wanted the gardeners to move BLMG to another park.

However, the polls SPR conducted in 2020 asked respondents about different sites for the garden within Cal Anderson, not about alternative parks for BLMG placement. 

In a Sept poll, 22% of respondents said the garden should go in the “Event Meadow,” also known as the “sun bowl.” Most respondents, 63%, said the garden should go near the entrance at E. Howell Street and 11th Avenue. 

According to the minutes from one of the community engagement meetings, some public commenters complained that a BIPOC-led garden amounted to racial segregation. One commenter said, “Not to sound like a Karen, but I will sue. Seriously.”

Black Star Farmers accused SPR of “placating to the minority, yet more powerful ($$$) stakeholders.” Besides, they argued, Cal Anderson hosted garage sales, movie nights, rallies, and other community events seemingly without issue in the three-and-a-half years of the garden’s existence. 

Black Star Farmers hope that Capitol Hill neighbors support the garden, and they hope that those supporters will show up on Oct 13 and for future gatherings. If not, one garden-goer said, BLMG “stands tall as a symbolic representation of resistance, grief, and healing. Regardless of what happens, this will always live on within us.”