SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Nearly 400 demonstrators heard Julia “Butterfly” Hill declare, “The Ron Mandella Community Garden is the giant redwood of Sacramento,” at a rally here late last month to save the garden from developers and to build support for affordable housing in the city.

Julia Hill, famous as the “butterfly” who lived more than two years in the top of a 1,000-year-old redwood tree in a successful campaign to save it from Pacific Lumber Company chainsaws, told the audience, “Take off your shoes and feel the earth beneath your feet.” Many did, walking amid the lush garden greenery with toes wiggling and faces smiling.

As Glayol Sahba, M.D., a member of the Mandella Garden Board of Directors, pointed out, the struggle to save the garden has become part of the fight to save low-income housing in downtown Sacramento. While rents have increased 11 percent in the last year, Sacramento central city has 272 fewer affordable apartments than 15 years ago.

Mandella garden supporters are asking the City Council to accept the Sacramento Mutual Housing Association’s offer to build low-income housing on the parking lot next to the garden, leaving the garden in its present state.

Meanwhile, the state agency responsible for the property plans to sell it to a developer from Portland, Ore., who intends to build 118 units for people with incomes of at least $68,000 a year. And so it goes in Sacramento, and elsewhere – profits before people.

Some say Sacramentans should plant many more community gardens. If we are known as the city of a million trees, why not the city of a hundred gardens? Many cities now consider these gardens a necessity. New Orleans boasts 150 community gardens funded through a non-profit community garden foundation. Philadelphia has more than 500 gardens. New York City has 700 community gardens maintained by 22,000 regular gardeners. Just outside Cleveland is a one-half acre garden tended by people with minor driving and alcohol related violations. Instead of a weekend in jail, the offenders see their efforts provide food for the local Salvation Army food kitchen.

Many advocates say that, along with affordable housing, community gardens are vital to assure the quality of life for millions in our country’s cities.

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