Getting Rid of Developer ‘Parasites’
The grounds keepers at The Farm at South Mountain usually take their lunch break at about 11 a.m. We provide them with a Farm Kitchen lunch – sandwich, salad, soup, — whatever is on the menu. They eat together at one of the picnic tables at the front, near my office in the pecan grove. Usually I let them eat in peace, but last week I wandered over to their table to let them know that a lot of our guests have remarked at how great The Farm looks this year. They just nodded as if to let me know that it really wasn’t news to them. My 16-year-old grandson was working with them on this particularly beautiful Sunday. This is his first experience working with them, and he enjoys the give and take that goes on between the crew and me.
After pretty much ignoring my complements (which they richly deserve and would feel slighted if not given) one of them said, “Here is one of your things. They keep falling onto the table.” He picked up a Lace Wing Larva, a tiny creature that looks like it was designed by Industrial Light & Magic, and showed it to me. I showed some excitement, mentioning that it was called an Aphid Lion. I told them how I had purchased eggs from Tucson and put them in little bags and put them in the pecan trees. I have been waiting for them to hatch into these little voracious creatures. The crew has long considered me a mad scientist (or at least mad) and this was just another example. Their foreman, our operations manager, explained that we were trying to find a biological solution to our aphid problem, and this was our first attempt. They were satisfied with his explanation but pointed out we still have a huge aphid problem. For some reason they find my battles with aphids, parking, irrigation, dust, turf, et al, quite enjoyable. It is as if they these little battles wouldn’t be nearly so much fun if they actually thought I knew what I was doing. And, when we do succeed, they just figure it couldn’t have been that big a deal, anyway.
An aphid infestation is not that easy to control without using pesticides, which we would rather not use on The Farm. Besides their amazing ability to reproduce, aphids engage in something called mutualism with the ant population on The Farm: “Mutualism is the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits. Similar interactions within a species are known as co-operation. Mutualism can be contrasted with inter species competition, in which each species experiences reduced fitness, and exploitation, or parasitism, in which one species benefits at the expense of the other. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis” (Wikipedia). In other words, ants “farm” the aphids. They protect them and even store the aphid eggs in their nests and then carry their eggs into the trees so they can hatch were the food is. The aphids eat the sap from the leaves and the ants stroke them with their antennae to “milk” the sweet “honeydew” they secrete. The ants protect their aphid herds from other insect predators. To control the aphids, you also have to control the ants.
In some of these editorials, I have written about The Farm District’s battles to control big box commercial development from filling our neighborhoods with tractor trailers and diesel soot. During this time a group of amazing neighborhood and community leaders have been fighting the developer and his attorney at a site near 32nd Street and Old Southern. This was a complex case involving site changes and arcane planning and zoning regulations. The community fought back with well-organized and thoughtful rebuttals, some media coverage, a great press conference, a professional quality presentation in front of the Phoenix City Council and a great effort at a referendum.
They fought hard and well, knowing that there was another much bigger project being proposed down the street at 28th and Southern. Every new loss was a learning experience and just made this group organize better and fight harder. And, they lost every battle.
The good news is that the larger project proposed by the Trammell Corporation withdrew their application to change the zoning and general plan because “opposition to our plan has been exacerbated by the recent Conor Commercial stipulation modification case at 32nd Street and Old Southern.” This loosely organized but incredible, dedicated group stopped one of the biggest developers in the Valley. They lost a lot of battles on the way only to win a great victory.
Of the many things learned and questioned in this campaign was how in the future we are going to get rid of these developer parasites when so much of our political and legal system strokes these creatures for whatever juice that can be squeezed from them. Where is the community’s Aphid Lion? Public hearings are designed to pit professionals against amateurs in a front of a tribunal that knows the first name of every zoning attorney in town and is drunk from their “honeydew.”
The folks in The Farm District might look crazy trying to take on this whole system, but if that’s their next project–or any other–I wouldn’t bet against them.