Home»Activism»Texas couple threatened by city for growing a community garden (Updated)

Texas couple threatened by city for growing a community garden (Updated)

community garden 1

Last year, Sheena Marie Roberts who is a retired military veteran, and Minister Mike founded Grow Your Own’s community learning garden in Copperas Cove, Texas. They had a vision; they wanted to beautify the city by planting lovely and useful vegetables, provide renters and apartment dwellers with a patch of land they could cultivate, and give back to the community by teaching their neighbors how to grow their own food.

They had a dedicated group of volunteers willing to work to make that vision a reality. All they needed was a little extra exposure, and who better to contact than the city’s recognized organization dedicated to beautifying the city?

Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful is a board of volunteers approved by the city council to advise the council about community improvement. They’re primarily known around town for picking up litter on the roadside and reminding people to recycle. In fact, if you call their listed phone number you get the city’s recycling center. KCCB’s Executive Director and the city’s Recycling Coordinator are the same person – Silvia Rhoads. The city’s finance department also helps KCCB apply for a lot of grants, from agencies both public and private, but they’re not a city department, they’re volunteers.

Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful doesn’t act much like a volunteer community-based organization. Sheena and Mike had too many dreadlocks and tattoos between them. The KCCB rep looked at them and the volunteer work they do for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and said that to protect the city’s image they couldn’t associate with them. Never mind that they’re both long-time residents of the city who own their home and pay taxes here. They just weren’t the right sort of people.

sheena and mike

They shook it off, and moved the garden to a vacant lot in the city. They were working with Dr. Joe Burns, the superintendent of schools for Copperas Cove ISD, so they figured they’d be okay. After all, Dr. Burns knew them, both Sheena and Mike had attended CCISD. When Dr. Burns went to the city to get the water turned on though, he came back and told them to vacate the premises immediately because he would be working with Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful.

Down but not out, they decided to go the private property route. They found an abandoned house with broken windows and an overgrown, weedy lot. They tracked down the property owner, an elderly individual who lived out of state, and got permission to use the land if they kept the property looking nice. Volunteers invested hours of work and donated hundreds of dollars worth of equipment and material. The garden was finally coming along.

Then the original owner passed away, and the heirs fought over the property in court. The son gave them permission to continue, but the day the daughter, who lives in California, was awarded ownership she called the Copperas Cove police and demanded they immediately arrest anyone found on the property. The officers declined to arrest them on sight, but told Mike and Sheena to grab what they could and get gone, because if they came back they’d go to jail. They had to abandon just about everything.

community garden

I had been following them with a great deal of interest, and when I saw Sheena post that they were out of options and just about ready to give up, I contacted her. I had gotten ill that spring and was unable to plant my large garden. I had raised beds, compost, rainwater cisterns, everything on site they needed to relocate. They could finish the year here.

They were nice, hardworking, knowledgeable people. I really enjoyed meeting them and working with them. We gave free classes on things like plant propagation and water conservation, taught home-schoolers, hosted a seed exchange, met with our local soup kitchen to see about providing them with fresh produce and holding canned food drives for them in the off season, and started working with a local Girl Scout troop.

Then the city figured out where they had went. Code Compliance hung violation notices on my door for a small banner I had displayed on my garage. They told me to move the directional sign I had displayed near the road to the other side of the sidewalk and damaged my private property. After being told by the Code Compliance officer that they weren’t liable for that last one, I raised hell with the city manager. She offered to reimburse me for the damage, and I thought the matter was settled.

By this time the growing season was over, and Mike and Sheena had located an empty lot on a major road. The owner had given them permission to use and improve upon the property, turned the water on, and since it was in a more visible location they decided to move the main garden there.

That was several months ago. This Saturday my husband came home from work and told me there was another notice from Code Compliance on our garage door. The notice was not even for my property, it was for a sign displayed at the new location. The notice said they had seized the sign, and threatened to cite me for displaying an “off premises” sign.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

I was rather perturbed. It was obvious that the officer had removed the sign without even attempting to contact the owner of the property it was displayed on, otherwise he would have known that it wasn’t “off premises.” He had not even attempted to call the number on the sign, which would have put them in contact with Sheena who could have told him the same thing. Instead, he claimed that he saw the 2″ logo on the paper flyer I had on my door which advertised the community garden and saw that the phone number matched. This is the same paper flyer that had been distributed to and displayed by businesses all over the city.

I spoke with the Code Compliance officer on the phone. He attempted to threaten me with fines and legal action for violating city ordinances, and I rebutted with unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He said somebody could come to city hall and reclaim the sign they had seized. I told him I didn’t understand why someone should have to take time out of their busy day to go and reclaim the sign that they had stolen, and that he should go put it back. He said he would try and contact the property owner to ascertain if they had given permission to post the sign, which is what he should have done before he removed the sign.

The most baffling thing about this is the backwards attitude the city has toward this garden. It stands out even in comparison to other local cities. Killeen just lavished money on a lovely facility for the Farmer’s Market, and nearby Harker Heights gave their Community Garden an excellent location in the city park, complete with raised beds and water. We asked for nothing from them, did all our work with volunteers and donated material, and got this kind of treatment.

I don’t imagine that this is the end of this saga, and I could really use some public exposure. If you could share our story it would really help us out.

For those interested in contacting Sheena and Mike, an email can be sent to burninsense@yahoo.com and the garden Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/growyourowntexas. You can also leave a comment in support of the community garden on Copperas Cove’s city Facebook page.

**Updates**

The owner of the property at 7th and Ave B (the property the last sign was stolen from, and the most recent location of the garden) has succumbed to the intimidation tactics used by the city, and asked the garden to vacate. Even though the sign was seized unlawfully, he said he can’t deal with the hassle. I can’t blame him, having city officials threatening to levy fines and take legal action against you can be pretty intimidating. The Garden thanks him for the time he allowed them to spend there.

The response we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’d like to thank everyone for their support. There have been a couple of concerns raised, and I’d like to take a moment to address them.

First, I understand that there is a guerrilla gardening movement gaining popularity in the US, but the community learning garden was not one of their projects. There was no ‘squatting’ on any property. Permission to be there was given by the owners of each location. In three instances it was revoked after work had begun: at the abandoned house after the property changed ownership, and at the empty lot after Dr. Burns was influenced by KCCB’s perception of Mike and Sheena, and most recently the 7th & Ave B location after the city started their latest round of abuse.

Second, the city ordinances of Copperas Cove SPECIFICALLY EXEMPT cultivated crops from the ‘tall grass and weeds’ ordinance. So the sign ordinance is being used to harass us instead. As one code enforcement officer put it, I could display as many signs as I wanted on my own property that endorsed a political candidate because the only ‘free speech’ I was entitled to was political speech (as defined by the city).

Which brings me to this: Several people have offered locations within the city. That’s awesome, and very encouraging in the face of this adversity. Originally the plan was to have a garden in every neighborhood, maintained by and for the neighborhood. Since the city government has given the garden grief at four different locations in one year, relocating without addressing the underlying issue would just bring trouble to your door. We need to get the city to change their attitude about this project first.

There is a petition which people can sign as well: www.change.org/petitions/city-of-copperas-cove-texas-stop-hindering-the-volunteer-community-gardens-in-the-city

People have been all over the city’s Facebook page for the hassle the city has been dealing out.

By: Stephanie Ortiz
Retired Texas police officer & Army veteran

Stay up to date with the latest cannabis news from across Texas by liking Texas Cannabis Report on Facebook and following on Twitter

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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35 Comments

  1. Mitch C.
    March 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Here is a perfect example of a community coming together to produce something tangible. Something healthy. Something achieved through hard work and dedication. Lo and behold, the powers that be decide that communal oneness is anti-establishment. I would not be surprised if the local Wal-Mart or big name grocery store was owned by someone in their city government and feared profits taking a hit if activities like this were to spread to other neighborhoods. Becoming self-sufficient communities is the only way America will survive the economic mess Capitol hill designed for us. Besides all of this, ask yourself: how well do you know your neighbors? Have you noticed how cold people are to one another nowadays? If you feel saddened in your response, worry not, build a community garden and see what it’s like to have friends again. Be the change you wish to see.

  2. mrmrssmith1925@hotmail.com
    March 6, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t know if this will help but please try this! I was going to make it for you but didn’t want to “steal” your story.

    http://www.change.org/petition

  3. Mark
    March 6, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Welcome to Copperas Cove I had the pleasure of have to deal with those fine individuals as you have when I live in cove from 1992 to 2008. Long story short they are corrupt they allow a lot of outside influence, the good old boy network you see. In the end I got tired of fighting they socialist, communist, nazi tactics so I allowed my home to be repoed walked away so I lost about $38,000.00. But in the end I have since purchased 28 acres with 81 pecan trees and best of all no one to tell me what to do with my property. The town and all the ppl here are friendly and respectful, something copperas cove could learn about public relations and just how to deal with the public. When I was leaving Germany in 1992 all the hype was on cove low crime good school but never told of the nazi tactics used by the city you just have to live there to understand it. So everything worked out for me for me and what was best for me. I am proud to say I live in Hamilton Tx. a great place to live and just a wonderful town. Hope your nightmare has ended, but with my experience probably not.

    Sincerly
    Mark (ret,army)

  4. Chas
    March 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

    These people used to be my neighbors. They grew this stuff because they are oath keepers and think the government is full of conspiracies and their intentions aren’t lawful. Seriously they should be ashamed of the stunt they are pulling. Congrats to code enforcment for doing your job. Kinda like cove police is nothing but traffic cops they don’t keep our children safe by keeping drugs off street or solving crimes. My son was beat a few years ago and I had to solve the crime myself

    • Mitch C.
      March 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Chas, you sound like a spambot or a dissenter. The govt. is full of conspiracy, as in not be trusted. You’re probably the one that called the law on them for being different. Stop watching the news media, they lie to you on a regular basis. The fact that you tell them to shut up and fall in line makes you sound like a cop or in the very local govt. that shut them down. You probably still think 9-11 was down by Al Qeada.

      • March 8, 2014 at 9:56 pm

        I’m sorry I’m just a real American who served my country for 10 years. I have pride in the red white and blue and which it stands. I think cops are good minus the exceptional crooked ones. If you don’t like America go somewhere else. Sorry that it’s laws don’t fit your lifestyle but that don’t mean that it needs to bend and suit you you need to grow up and follow it. I am no fan of Obama but I support him becausebits the American thing to dom why did the Dixie chicks lose there success because they spoke against bush. That wasn’t right they took their punishment and moved on. These oathkeepers are a bunch of hypocracy. They want to be in America but they don’t like it’s principals and ways of life. Goto a country that suits you. It’s the oath keepers who are corrupting society. No I’m no cop jot a fan of them but I do respect them. With law enforcment and government thwre would be no order just chaos. It would be a survival of the fittest or crookedest and not a land of opportunity. Now yes our govt does hurt some like the 2m unemployed but that is the rebuplicans trying to destroy our country instead of supporting it and our president. Gay people have never been told u can’t be gay we say we don’t want to see it. Nor do we want to see straight people making out in public so where is the difference. Racism started in Europe and most of the slaves were treated like employes given food shelter and clothing. They aren’t even alive today but we baby their ancestors giving them a free ride not because we scared because of slavery but the words meaning. Think about it and see.

    • Clifton Murphy
      March 10, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      this chas person sounds like the kind of neighbor you hope will make the news for shooting himself in the face one day….

    • March 11, 2014 at 1:06 am

      Chas, you’re the fellow lived down the end of the road, aren’t you? I remember because when I found out you were a disabled vet, too, I did try to talk to you about the Oath Keepers. You started going on about your family ties to the Klan, and how this country was in trouble because the president was black, and black people were the cause of all your troubles. I’m glad you didn’t join up. We don’t need your kind of ignorant.

      • March 11, 2014 at 1:08 am

        And for the record, my involvement with the Oath Keepers has nothing to do with my speaking up for Mike and Sheena. I’m doing it because what the city was doing to them was wrong.

  5. Chas
    March 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

    These people are oath keepers and there reasons for doing this is to cause political attention to them selves. I know this because they were my neighbors til I moved last year and they tried to convience everyone to support them. 2nd finally code enforcment does there job unlike cove Pd who are the greatest traffic cops in the world. They don’t solve crimes or keep kids safe getting drugs off the street even when they know about it. 3rd the oath keepers should just shut there mouth ur in America be American support your country stop slamming our president and support the country.

    • Dee
      March 8, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      First, if anyone takes the time to read this I think they are going to side with gardeners. In one breath you say they are doing something for political attention and then you make a political statement. Second, I am not really sure what your point is. You seem to be all over the place in your statement. Third, what “exactly” are they doing that is un-American? Lastly, Part of being American is being able to express your beliefs- Political, religious, etc… Welcome to America!

    • Clifton Murphy
      March 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      hey chas, you retarded socialist ObamaWhore….You do know that the “constitution” is America, not the president right? OathKeepers supports the constitution….Perhaps your a little confused here? You might also not realize it but Oathkeepers membership is made up of Military, Police, Paramedics, Sheriffs deputies, other law enforcement etc..,Who exactly are you trying to call lawless?

  6. March 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    That petition isn’t going to do anything. If you want a petition that will hold water, you need to go through the City Secretary’s office and go through the convoluted process the feral cat ordinance repeal just went through, or the city council here won’t even look at it. The only people who can sign it (and be counted) are people registered to vote here in Copperas Cove and the petition needs to be filed by a council of at 5 (I think it was 5, there might have been six of us) people, also registered to vote here in Cove.

    I messaged the KCCB FB page a year or so ago, after seeing Heights’ community garden and was poo-poo’ed by whoever runs the page, because they were sure there wouldn’t be any interest in doing one or maintaining one. If you need my help as a signature party or one of the petition sponsors, I am registered to vote here in Cove, a home owner (with a nice big corner lot and an underutilized, privacy fenced yard) and my name was part of the sponsor list for the feral cat repeal, so I’m sure I’m not one of the council’s favorite people, so there is no love lost. I don’t even have dreads or (visible) ink.

  7. Dee
    March 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Good luck with Copperas Cove. This is the city that gained national attention for arresting someone with an overdue GED book from the local library. I will say I have met several officers from the area and they were all kind to us so I can’t say much about the police. I will say that my time there made me leave because most are transients that don’t care about beautifying the area. Most are there because of the military and do not plan to stay in the area.However, you would assume that they would want positive people and positive publicity.

    • Mitch C.
      March 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      Chas, you sound like your nuts, really. I served too and proudly I might add. Spent all my time outside the wire as a combat medic for route clearance. Stop believing the propaganda, its messing you up. We are talking about a garden. A simple garden and the city that destroyed the family’s chances of saving money and building community togetherness. This has nothing to do about not supporting the president and his lies. Again, you sound like a cop. And in a police state, the cops bully the people. You sound overbearing. I didnt even read the rest of your posts because you act like a spambot.

      I took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. When I took it, I wasnt lying to myself. You should take time to remember your oath.

      • March 9, 2014 at 1:14 am

        Mitch spambot really, I wouldn’t be able to reply to ur ignorant oath keeping butt. Sound like a cop even if I was that’s not ur business. But no I’m notbim a disabled vet. Believing propoganda really no its called knowing reality. Simply a garden that’s a load of crock it’s the message they spread with the garden. Community togetherness you do realize this all started with complaints from the community.

        • Mitch C.
          March 9, 2014 at 1:27 am

          Chas, you’re bats crazy. The words you speak give way to how lost you are. I cant even begin to try and piece your asinine thoughts together. You’re no veteran and you’re a cop pretending not to be one for fear of giving yourself away. I will pray to God for help in this matter on how to deal with people like yourself. I just moved back here to the greatest state in the union and you’re killing it for me by acting spambotic and such. Go spam another website, cop.

  8. March 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Dee it’s not about the gardeners as there’s nothing wrong with gardening and I’m pretty sure the city wouldn’t care if they were normal about it and were gardening in therr back yard. It’s about the oath keeper policy of causing riots and chaos and constantly starting crap with the local governments. I have been a resident of cove for years the city is very fair.

  9. March 8, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    The point is if they simply comply with code enforcment then what’s the big deal they can have their cake and eat it to. What about the rights of their neighbors. What if they are offended by seeing a nasty yard. I mean seriously it’s not normalm and yes I know the intent and is oath keeper plus govt is corrupt store food speach I’ve heardbit from the gardeners themswlves. Think they did to many drugs in their days. The oath keepers are no different than the illuminati except even Satan wasn’t dumb enough to support them

  10. March 9, 2014 at 1:16 am

    2nd thing Mitch if it was about a garden why don’t they just grow it in their backyard like normal gard3ners do. I have a garden nice and large but it’s not a community eye sore. Just because I don’t support the oath keepers illiterate mentality like mitch and friends don’t make a spambot. Someone probably don’t even know what that is. Like I said ifbu thinks it’s propoganda and lies move u won’t be missed

    • Mitch C.
      March 9, 2014 at 1:39 am

      I dont associate myself with these oathkeepers you speak of. But as a veteran, I did make an oath. I follow the Constitution because I grew up learning it. People dont break into my house and the fact that you wish that on me tells me where your head is at. I welcome you to try. You will not leave alive, I assure you. I will not let this carry on anymore. Its evident you are brainwashed and completely devoid of its underpinnings. May you live a good life and the best of luck in this level of media hogwash you believe in.
      MK Ultra has you and you dont even realize it.

  11. March 9, 2014 at 1:21 am

    Defending the constitution does not mean bending it to your wants and ways of life. Oath keeprs are traitors. Cops were created to enforce laws but they are the number 1 enemy of oath keepers. Because they abuse the constitution to think they have the right to do whatever they want whenever they want and Noone say no. That I took an oath to defend the constitution is what the oath keepers say. Yes I was schooled well by our great gardener family. It’s a bunch of the govt is a conspiracy shit. Someone got dropped on the head to much as a baby. Let ur house get robbed who’s the first person u call or let ur child get hurt who u gonna call. So stop bashing the people u turn to when it’s not about u not getting ur way. Stop believeing this nonsense from the oath keepers who are really just anti control and anti laws. Laws that are inplace to protect the peace of everyone not just some selfish pricks.

  12. t-race
    March 9, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Its a garden people! Not a political uprising, or a stand against” the man”, its a garden. Our children are losing the ability to fend for themselves and are relying on big stores more and more. Growing our own food gives people a sense of worth and accomplishment, as well as filling up the bellies of starving or underprivlidged people.

  13. March 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Trace I agree with u I have a garden myself but that’s not the message these people are spreading. Common sense people build green houses and plant gardens in the backyard. These people intended to cause issues with the local city govt. I talked to them personally about it several times

  14. March 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Trace I agree with u I have a garden myself but that’s not the message these people are spreading. Common sense people build green houses and plant gardens in the backyard. These people intended to cause issues with the local city govt. I talked to them personally about it several times. And no MM was full of shit a womanizer everything I study the truth. I know more about Obama than u. Yes researched that onem he is a descendant of the Al queda but he is still our elected official. Which means that it’s who we chose so we have to respect that.

  15. March 9, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    That being stated oath keepers are legal terrorist. They do the same thing as terrorist do try to disrupt the American way of life for their causem only difference is its legal terrorism because they are born in america. We need to give them their own land and let them have their own govt watch how many beg to return

  16. March 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    What’s mitches problem with cops…. Also ever wonder what mitch rhymes with change the m to a b and he’ll I’m just saying. Mitch if I was a cop I wouldn’t hide it I would wear it loud and proud. Yes I served my country for 10 years loved every minute of it. Sad thing is people like Mitch give America bad names to the other countries. Mitch is just another oath keeper who is a terrorist baby that wants his way and when he don’t get it he cries like the little bitch he is.

  17. March 10, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Did not know this was a weed site please remove me. I believe in vics percs etc don’t support something that fries the brain. Weed is a drug I had a friend die from smoking to much. It’s a depresent just like alcohol. U get the munchies and pass out wonder why u pass out. People who smoke weed are dumb and have no purpose on earth.

  18. March 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Clifton u gave me some good laughs. Another oath keeper trying to justify being a terrorist

  19. November 6, 2014 at 3:43 am

    Chas if you don’t like it you can just leave this forum. BYE