As reported by several news outlets, including ABC online, Julie Bass, an Oak Park, Michigan, woman was cited by her city for growing a vegetable garden in her front yard. Ms. Bass has opted for a jury trial. If convicted, she could face up to 93 days in jail.
The cause for the ruckus: It appears that a couple of her neighbors filed complaints against her sustainable front yard. Oak Park City Planner, Kevin Rulikowski, heads the disdain in the anti-vegetable crusade.
From all indications from online photographs, the offending garden in question is contained in several well-constructed raised beds and looks neat and tidy.
As a fellow urban gardener (albeit somewhat guerilla – I camouflage much of my food products amidst flowery container plantings – mostly to hide my goodies from marauding critters) who lives one city away from Oak Park, I am outraged on many levels.
First and foremost: Government. If it’s not the food police telling us what and what not to put in our mouths, it’s local city government telling us what to grow and what not to grow. To her credit, Ms. Bass did inquire at the city offices as to whether or not a vegetable garden was okay. While the Oak Park City Planner personally might prefer grass and shrubs, who is he to advise a homeowner as to the “proper” plant material for a front yard?
Argument 1a: “Proper” plant material? Are you kidding me? Which God in Oak Park City government has deemed vegetables as “ugly” or improper?
My own yard features grapes and raspberries lining the property line. My pear tree (thanks to some super-duper deer and bird repellent I should have used on the cherry tree) is heavily bearing fruit as I type. Fruit trees are just as beautiful in spring bloom as ornamental pears and cherries. The plus side: We get to eat the harvest.
Tomato plants are majestic while they are producing. Low profile plants like zucchini, cucumbers, squashes, and pumpkins have brilliant, wide leaves and pretty yellow blossoms (some blossoms are also edible). Thyme makes an excellent ground cover, and sage can be used as a low bush in traditional plantings. And while potato plants are large and seem to take over when vigorously growing, their blooms are just as pleasing as any other annual plant.
Tender plants like lettuce, chard, eggplant, and peppers can be grown in containers. Yes, don’t tell the local gendarmes, but I have lettuce growing in two containers on my front porch, along with begonias, asparagus fern, African daisies, and violets. And yes, I venture outside to the front porch to pick leaf lettuce for hamburgers as needed.
Argument 2 a: City water costs money. A lot of money. Despite a preponderance of precipitation for most of the month of May and part of June, the southeastern Michigan area hasn’t seen much for raindrops in the last month. Watering the lawn is an expensive proposition with only a pleasant verdant carpet as a payoff. A homeowner cannot eat grass and shrubs. A homeowner can, however, eat zucchini and tomatoes. And there is no better tomato on the planet than one that is hand-picked from one’s own plot of land.
And there is the sustainability factor. Greenies have been pushing a “sustainable” agenda for years. Michiganders are chided into buying local in order to cut down on the use of fossil fuels to deliver our produce. (Of course, until they come up with frost-resistant citrus, we’re screwed there. And, as I mentioned above, watering for food makes more sense than watering for grass.) Even Michele Obama tends (with help) vegetable gardens on her own White House lawn. This might sound radical, but I think everyone should grow an edible plant, just to be reminded such items come from a mixture of soil, seed, and careful tending and don’t automatically sprout for your convenience out of bins at the local Kroger.
You would think Ms. Bass would be praised instead of harassed. She invested money in planter boxes, thus helping out the local economy. She’s out there picking weeds, thus staying far away from poisonous devices like TV and the Internet, and getting exercise while doing it. She’s providing her family with nutritious, fresh food, instead of pushing a cart down the frozen food aisle and picking up Hot Pockets and White Castle hamburgers. A front yard veggie garden may be slightly unconventional, but as long as it’s tidy, what’s the harm?
For years, I’ve been extolling the virtues of urban gardening, whether it is in dedicated plots, in deck containers, or in incorporating fruit trees, herbs, and vegetable plants into the urban landscape. I hate to think my local city government will be eyeballing the activities in my own yard.
Perhaps I should keep my own eye on this.