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Some Salt Lake Residents Find Peace In A Community Garden. For Others, It’s A Big Headache

A photo of a sign of a fist clutching a beet with the words 'Og-woi People's Orchard and Gardens' and 'BEET the System, Grow Our Own.'
Emily Means
The Og-woi People’s Orchard and Garden sits just off the Jordan River on the west side of Salt Lake City.

The Og-woi People’s Orchard and Garden was built in May 2020 just north of the Jordan River in Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood.

This week, lemon cucumbers hung on vines amid buzzing bees and a cat that was stalking bugs. Vibrant flowers surround a mural that memorializes Margarita Satini, a community organizer who died from COVID-19 last year.

Community members, like Adair Kovac, come and tend to the garden every Sunday.

“It's a gift,” Kovac said. “It's a gift that the plants give to us, that the insects and plants give to each other, and that we can be in community with one another.”

The garden isn’t technically permitted by Salt Lake City, so the city’s public lands department is now undertaking a formal approval process that includes public engagement.

A photo of an elderly man watering flowers in a garden.
Emily Means
Tom King, one of the garden’s organizers, waters some flowers around a mural of community organizer Margarita Satini.

Tom King, one of the garden’s organizers, said it was initially built as an act of civil disobedience to draw attention to climate change. For him, there’s a deeper meaning, too.

“It's a place to practice the lesson that human beings need to learn and that is simply to care about all of the web of life,” King said. “If the web of life is damaged too much, then this biosphere we call planet Earth will no longer support [us].”

But for some residents, like Brook Bernier, the garden has been the source of a major headache.

She believes a water spigot and an extension cord that was previously there enabled homeless encampments on the Jordan River to grow. Additionally, because the garden isn’t permitted by the city, she said there’s no one who can address concerns about safety.

“There needs to be accountability because there needs to be a way that we can voice our concerns if things are happening,” Bernier said. “That we have somewhere to go if we have an encampment that grows to 200 people again.”

She said she doesn’t want to “destroy the garden,” but she would like it to be run by an organization with more oversight of what happens there.

The public can comment on the garden through a survey until 5 p.m. on Oct. 1.

Corrected: October 7, 2021 at 9:12 AM MDT
This story has been corrected to reflect that Tom King is one of a number of organizers of the Og-woi People's Orchard and Garden.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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