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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Health department mows over personal garden

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A resident on the city’s northwest side believes an inspector for the Marion County Public Health Department got revenge on him by citing him for property violations and having his personal garden mowed down.

Keith Paschall, 38, was at a meeting Sept. 26 at Cleo’s Bodega Grocery and Cafe when someone mowed over his personal garden in the front yard of his house on West 33rd Street. He was gone for close to three hours in the afternoon and noticed when he got back to his house that someone edged the walkway to his porch. He then looked up at his sloped front yard and saw his garden, with two patches on either side of the walkway, was destroyed.

“We live in a food desert over here,” Paschall said. “There’s no place that I can get all of the fresh vegetables and herbs I had here in the garden.”

The health department inspected Paschall’s property Aug. 9 and issued a notice of violation. After a second inspection Sept. 4, Paschall was cited for scattered rubbish, high weeds or grass and overgrowth of vegetation. The citation says the location was a “vacant structure,” but Paschall owns his home and has lived there since 2013. He said he didn’t pay the $100 fine, which was due by Oct. 1, and plans to fight the citation in court.

According to department policy posted online, Paschall had at least 10 days, but no more than 60, to bring the property within compliance. But since he wasn’t sure what exactly he was being cited for, Paschall said he called the inspector, Norm Hobson, to complain and didn’t make any changes to his property.

The fine is separate from the department cleaning the property, according to department spokesperson Curt Brantingham, so Paschall’s garden would have been mowed even if he paid the fine.

As for mowing over the garden, Brantingham said in an email the department “works to respect areas such as a garden, whenever possible, if it is visible prior to the clean … or if it is discovered while doing the clean.”

It’s unclear why the crew mowed over the garden, even if they didn’t see it at first. Paschall didn’t have any photos of just his garden but shared one with the Recorder showing people in his front yard and the garden visible on the sides.

“They did a number on me,” Paschall said. “I just don’t understand. You know, the health department is supposed to be there. They’re supposed to be helping us out.”

Paschall’s argument is that vacant houses in the area, along with neglected alleyways where trash gets dumped, are real problems that the health department ignores.

It was a similar argument Paschall made in court before when he was found not guilty in March for a similar citation for long grass, stemming from a two-week period Paschall said he was out of the country for a wedding.

Paschall said he mowed his yard, but the department still fined him. He won his court case and believes the most recent citation, along with destroying his garden, are retaliation. Hobson, the inspector, signed both citations.

Brantingham said the department is in the process of enforcing other trash orders in the area.

The only food left in the garden after it was mowed over were some peppers, but Paschall said the largest pepper was picked off the plant. His strawberry patch was cut so thoroughly that it was difficult to tell that plot of land was anything other than grass.

Paschall said he isn’t sure how much money he lost in the garden — which also included lettuce, beans and tomatoes — but said he knows he “lost a lot of time.”

Tyrique Waith, a neighbor across the street, said he saw two trucks pull up and about seven people with green vests and orange shirts in the yard. He didn’t realize what they were doing until it was too late.

“They ain’t even clean the yard up or nothing,” said Waith, 20. “They just got straight to it.”

The area where Paschall lives is part of the largest food desert in Indianapolis. Cleo’s Bodega, where Paschall was for his meeting, opened recently and could help the community deal with a lack of access to healthy and affordable food, but the issue is systemic.

Paschall said he would like the health department to “actually take care of our health instead of terrorizing the people who live here.” He would also like a water hookup to the fire hydrant so other urban farmers in the neighborhood can have access to it.

If he gets anything out of it for himself, Paschall said he would like a tiller.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

The Marion County Public Health Department mowed over Keith Paschall’s personal garden after he was cited in early September for violations including high weeds and overgrowth of vegetation. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

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