In Dalworthington Gardens, Gnismer Farms plants its last crop
08/15/2011 4:51 PM
09/09/2011 7:21 PM
DALWORTHINGTON GARDENS -- For years, Gnismer Farms has been one of Dalworthington Gardens' most visible examples of its agricultural heritage.
Connoisseurs of farm-fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs have come from near and far to pick their own produce at the 7-acre urban farm along Bowen Road. When, in the early spring, the strawberries ripen, more than 1,500 people a day have been known to visit, baskets in hand.
"We've been very, very popular," owner Lynn Remsing said.
But he and his wife, Cynthia Remsing, now plan to halt food production at the site. After the pumpkins are picked this fall, Lynn Remsing says, the soil will be planted with grass for hay and the longtime family home on Roosevelt Drive will be put up for rent.
The seeds of this plan were sown about a year ago, Remsing says, when the city staff rejected his request for a building permit. He wanted a larger detached garage in which to store his expensive farm implements out of the weather. The city maintains that his property doesn't carry the appropriate zoning for such a structure.
"If they wanted me to make it look like Highland Park, I would," Remsing said, referring to the upscale Dallas suburb. "It's not like I can't afford it."
Since he and his family began selling produce "out back" in the late 1990s -- and helped educate a generation of schoolchildren about where food comes from -- Remsing, 62, says city officials have never made him feel welcome.
In one instance, he says, they objected to the placement of a sign with the name of his business. In another, code enforcement officers stopped by to investigate complaints that his wares were not grown on-site but instead brought in from elsewhere. Then there is the rejected building permit.
Add it up, and it means that in a town that prides itself as a rural oasis amid the never-ending noise of the Metroplex, a visible symbol of the country life will soon cease to exist.
"I try to be a good neighbor," Remsing said. "But I don't know what they want from me. So I'll just put hay bales back there."
Green with envy?
Remsing suspects that envy from his neighbors, including the nearby business Green's Produce & Plants, is behind the attitude he perceives on the city's part. His immediate neighbors never had a problem accepting vegetables from his private garden before it became a commercial enterprise, he said. But when it did, suddenly they stopped coming around.
"About half the people love us, and the other half object to us and say we charge too much," he said, sitting in his office after an afternoon in the broiling sun. "They don't realize how hard we work. I spend $250 a day on labor alone. Why shouldn't we get a little something back?"
Patti White, general manager of Green's and the daughter of owner Tom Baron, said she's never complained to the city about Gnismer Farms and doesn't view the Remsings as competition.
"We really support local businesses," she said. "I think [Gnismer Farms] is a neat little thing in Dalworthington Gardens. ... I think there's enough business for everybody."
As for the city's requirements, Green's has run up against them, too, she said.
A few years ago, for example, White requested a permit to erect a wire fence around Green's nursery. City Administrator Melinda Brittain told her that all four pieces of Green's property needed to be on a single plat before any further permits could be issued.
"They've never come back and asked me if I've done this," she said. "They've never been unreasonable. It was just understood that it would have to be done before we could get other permits."
Brittain said Green's has never tried to influence the city with regards to zoning or permits.
The decision to deny the building permit for Gnismer Farms "was reached by city staff responsible for zoning/permitting decisions in accordance with city code zoning restrictions," she said. "Neither the City Council nor Green's Produce were consulted in the decision to deny a permit to Mr. Remsing."
Anyone disagreeing with the staff's interpretation of the city code is encouraged to take his or her case before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Brittain said.
She acknowledged that Gnismer Farms was inspected several years ago for produce being sold that wasn't grown on-site, although she couldn't recall the source of the complaints.
"There were no citations issued or other code enforcement activity," she said. "All code enforcement complaints are investigated regardless of the source."
Dalworthington Gardens was established as a federal subsistence homestead program in the 1930s to provide working families with enough land for gardens and livestock during the Depression. DWG was incorporated in 1949, but city fathers maintained its heritage by letting residents sell agricultural products grown on their property.
The Remsings have operated in a single-family-zoned district under this provision, Brittain said. In denying the building permit, the city is trying to protect the residential feel that the zoning is designed for.
"Gnismer Farms is welcomed, appreciated and admired as a hallmark to the 'Gardens' heritage and encouraged to continue their operation within the provided limitations established to maintain the sanctity of surrounding residential properties," Brittain said.
Remsing, who narrowly lost a bid for City Council a few years ago, said he has no desire to "jump through hoops."
He and his wife will grow hay on the property and rent out their main house, just as they do with an adjacent home. They plan to establish a similar garden and agricultural learning center, probably in the Waco-Temple area. The idea is to be within a two-hour drive of wherever their daughter, who is finishing up her residency, goes into practice as a medical doctor.
The city "thinks they've won, but they haven't," Remsing said. "I'll sit [on this property] for the next 30 years. I'll keep my agricultural designation, you know what I mean?
"You don't notice the well till the well goes dry."
Patrick M. Walker,
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