By Guy Page
As part of its ‘deep organizational work to address racism as a public health crisis,’ the City of Burlington won’t allow people who refuse to sign a diversity pledge to grow food in a taxpayer-funded community garden.
Of the 83 Vermont municipal signatories to the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion, few have done more than merely sign the declaration. Vermont Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis said yesterday she hopes more towns will walk the talk by increasing diversity among staff and board members, examining policing policies, and working for diversity/equity/inclusion in schools.
However, the City of Burlington, which has well-developed Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging staffing and policies, denies access to community gardening for people who won’t sign a document declaring support for diversity, equity and inclusion.
In an email titled “Gardener Re-education,” a Burlington resident informed VDC of a joint effort by the Burlington Area Community Gardens (BACG) to require city residents and non-residents alike to sign a diversity/inclusion/equity statement of agreement as a condition of gardening a city-owned, operated, and funded community garden plot.
“By signing this, you agree to abide by the following requirements and understand that if you fail to do so, your plot privileges may be forfeited,” the statement says, as published on the BACG website.
The statement must be signed before BACG will take your credit card payment for lots, ranging from $40-$110 annually. There are no listed exemptions or opt-outs. Sign the agreement. Pay the fee. Then and only then may you raise fruit and vegetables on city-owned property set aside for that purpose.
BACG is a program of the Burlington Parks and Recreation Department. Its 14 sites are enjoyed by 1400 people. BACG states on its website:
“The City of Burlington has made a commitment to do deep organizational work to address racism as a public health crisis. This started with the creation of the Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging office and has grown into specific community events and trainings for its employees.
“Through this journey of learning and in a process of reflection, with the support of community members and colleagues, we have identified ways that we can begin to adapt our Gardener Agreement, policies and practices to better cultivate a community garden program that is inclusive and belonging for all of its participants.”
However, people who won’t sign – for whatever reason – are specifically excluded from raising food due to a policy meant to be more ‘inclusive.’
The BACG agreement doesn’t specifically list the marginalized groups it hopes to support with more Diversity/Inclusion/Equity. However, the City of Burlington is a signatory to the Declaration of Inclusion, which condemns racism and “welcomes” these specific groups: “all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, disability, or socioeconomic status.”
We believe that the revised Gardener Agreement (below) begins to move us closer to the standards and accountability that are the necessary frame to dive deeper into this work.
The agreement reads:
Revised Gardener Agreement
We ask that all community gardeners abide by the Gardener Agreement in order to allow our gardens and fellow community members to flourish throughout the growing season.
By signing this, you agree to abide by the following requirements and understand that if you fail to do so, your plot privileges may be forfeited.
I agree to be a responsible BACG community member by prioritizing inclusivity and demonstrating value for our shared humanity. This means:
- Being open, accepting, respectful and inclusive of everyone
- Exercising patience, mindfulness and understanding towards others
- Working to establish meaningful connections with all fellow community gardeners, including those with varied backgrounds and experiences
- Participating in productive communication and maintaining a spirit of cooperation with fellow gardeners
- Being proactive about educating myself on matters of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
- Being aware of my own privileged identities and how these affect others and understanding, acknowledging, exploring and challenging my conscious and unconscious biases
- Remaining open to and engaged with efforts of inclusion when I make a mistake, am uncomfortable or held accountable
Communities signing the municipal Declaration of Inclusion also promise their community “has and will continue to be a place where individuals can live freely and express their opinions.” It remains unclear how or whether Burlington community gardeners may “freely” express disagreement with the premise of equity – equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity under the law – and “freely” confess their Judeo-Christian beliefs about human life and sexuality.
Earlier this week, Vermont Daily Chronicle asked Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger to comment on the ethics and legality of the required agreement. It is a generally-held legal principle that as a taxpayer-funded public good, government services may not be denied on the basis of individual belief. The mayor’s office has not responded.
At a press conference yesterday, Both Gov. Phil Scott and Davis professed unawareness of the BACG required statement.
Governor Scott was asked by Vermont Daily Chronicle: “Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging office has developed an official policy of limiting access to the city-owned Burlington Area Community Gardens to people who will sign a document declaring personal support for diversity, equity and inclusion. What do you think of diversity programs and policies that deny access to public services for people who won’t sign statements of agreement?”
Gov. Scott responded: “We need inclusion on all levels. I don’t know about the policies you are speaking of.”
“I would want to know more about the policy before I comment on it,” state diversity official Xusanna Davis said.
After the press conference, Scott told VDC he doesn’t support compelling people to become more inclusive, and said he may ask Davis to look into the Burlington policy.