Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not in your front yard

"They used to grow food in Kansas
Now they want to grow it on the moon and eat it raw

I can see the day coming when even your home garden
Is gonna be against the law
Bob Dylan - Union Sundown
Michigan Woman Faces 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Vegetable Garden

By Colleen Vanderlinden
July 8, 2011

It just doesn't get more ridiculous than this.

Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan -- a mother of 6, law-abiding citizen, and gardener -- is facing 93 days in jail after being charged with a misdemeanor.

Her crime? Planting a vegetable garden in the front yard.

Bass says that she planted the garden after her front yard was torn up for some sewer repairs. Rather than wasting the opportunity to start with a clean slate by planting a lawn, she decided to really put the area to use, and plant a vegetable garden.

Her garden consists of 5 raised beds, where she grows a mix of squashes, corn, tomatoes, flowers, and other veggies. Bass received a warning from the city telling her to remove the vegetable garden, because it doesn't adhere to city ordinances (more on that later.) When she refused, she was ticketed and charged with a misdemeanor. Her trial, before a jury, is set to begin on July 26th. If she is found guilty, she can be sentenced to up to 93 days in jail.

About the City Ordinance

Supposedly, Bass is in noncompliance with a city ordinance that states that only "suitable" plant material is allowed on the lawn area of residences. When local media asked city planner Kevin Rulkowski what that meant, he said suitable means "common:" lawn, nice shrubs, and flowers. However, the city ordinance does not specifically state that those are the only allowed plant materials.

About Oak Park

This is not some gated community with HOA regulations. This is an ordinary, working class neighborhood in Oakland County, Michigan. Like nearly every other city in my home state right now, Oak Park is facing financial issues. Here at home, people are amazed that a cash-strapped city has the resources to investigate, charge, and prosecute a resident for something as innocuous as planting a vegetable garden.

What's Being Done

This story is gaining traction all over the web. Gawker covered it this morning. There are Facebook pages devoted to supporting Mrs. Bass and her family during this ordeal. Will social media help change the city's mind? That's what many of us are hoping. Local television affiliates for ABC and Fox news have already covered the story, and media attention continues to grow.

How to Help

If you want to help support a gardener's right to grow food for her family (even if it is -- gasp -- in the front yard!) there are several things you can do:

1. Email or call officials for the city of Oak Park. Mrs. Bass has listed contact information for the mayor, city manager, and other city officials in the sidebar of her blog.
2. "Like" the Oak Park Hates Veggies Facebook Page.
3. Spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. By gaining attention to this particular issue, with this particular homeowner, the hope is that other cities will reconsider before they harass another homeowner for something like this.

What do you think? Should a front yard vegetable garden be a crime?

Colleen Vanderlinden is the co-author of the book Edible Gardening for the Midwest, (Lone Pine Publishing, 2009) as well as the Organic Gardening expert for She writes about gardening for Planet Green, and is a regular contributor to Mother Earth News magazine.


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