Gardener threatened with jail for growing vegetables in her own front yard!

The case of Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan planting vegetables on her own front lawn and being threatened with jail time has received world-wide attention and deservedly so. As a gardener, I’m appalled that such an innocent, healthy, environmentally friendly act can be punished like that. As a new immigrant to the USA, I’m worried at what this says about civil liberty in this, the “Land of the Free.”
Though one can’t deny that it is the “Home of the Brave” if Julie Bass is anything to go by. This ordinary woman is taking a stand. There is a great recap of events in her blog Oak Park Hates Veggies, but to summarize: – A city tree damaged sewer pipe running under her lawn. The Bass family had to dig up their lawn to fix it, at their own cost, and when they went to fix up their front yard they decided to put in raised vegetable beds. According to Julie Bass, she did check the ordinance and there was nothing that stated she couldn’t.
But when the code enforcer came out a couple of weeks later, he stated that the code says that all unpaved surfaces shall be covered with grass, shrubbery, or suitable live plant material. The furor is centered now on the word “suitable” which the code enforcer says means “common”. It has now become one of the most looked up word definitions on the internet!
As you can tell from the title of my blog, I am no fan of lawns. I recently heard Rosalind Creasy speak at a Master Garden talk on Edible Landscaping, and she raised some really good points in relation to growing vegetables – even in the front yard.
Like asking the question, “How can you complain about the price of veggies when you have a lawn?” I thought she made a great point, especially when you consider the money that goes into buying fertilizer and the chemicals many folk use to suppress weeds and pests on the lawn, and the fact that it is an environmental “black hole” being a monoculture. Not to mention the watering it needs…
She also pointed out that when you grow something that you eat, you save water. Take for example lettuce – A home gardener will pull off the leaves they need, leaving the rest of the lettuce to continue growing. The farmer has to pull the entire head of lettuce and keep the lettuces in huge vats of water to keep them from going limp until he gets them on supermarket shelves. Lots of water wasted per lettuce compared to the home garden.
If you grow your own food you save native plants elsewhere on the planet that would have been cleared for farming as farmers need to remove native habitat to grow food.
Vegetable gardens don’t have to be ugly. All vegetables have flowers, and it is also a good idea to grow flowers amongst the vegetables to encourage pollinators and beneficial insects.
So, how can Julie Bass be sent to jail for such an environmentally positive act?  
Reading through all the reports, face book posts and her blog, I am impressed by two things:
1 – Her courage for taking a stand on this.
2 – I admire her fair mindedness and how she hasn’t let bitterness, or a sense of vengeance overtake her.  I particularly like that she has urged people not to make personal (verbal or otherwise) attacks on the city officials who are hounding her. (“Hounding” being my word not hers.) And when people have suggested that she recruits her neighbours to plant veggies in their front yards as an act of solidarity alongside her, she has said she doesn’t want anyone else to get into trouble. 
Julie – if I were your neighbor I’d plant veggies in my front yard – though I’d be totally embarrassed at how badly my tomatoes are doing!
A pre-trial is scheduled for July 26th.  In support of Julie, I would urge anyone who feels the same way to spread the word, “like” the facebook page heading up the online campaign, Oak Park HatesVeggies, read her blog, and sign the petition. 

Byddi Lee

8 replies to Gardener threatened with jail for growing vegetables in her own front yard!

  1. I heard about his story. This is so appalling that they would threaten her like this! Seriously is disturbing! How about all those people that have garbage and old trucks and stuff laying around their yards or better yet people who don't prune and let their yard go to shit. Ugh!

  2. Byddi, I didn't know about this case; it's really interesting. Recently, I've been reading a history of how Americans have used their property (From Yard to Garden by Christopher Grampp). He talks about the development of the first suburbs in the 19th century and the distinctively American form of landscape design that made front yards park-like communal space. It was considered bad citizenship to take an individual property approach to the front yard, and many communities had ordinances requiring lawns and prohibiting fences or hedges around front yards. It's interesting that these norms have lasted even as the values that informed them have not. -Jean

  3. I bet whoever ruled that veg wasn't suitable got bullied at school … And I bet he deserved it too!

    What a knobhead.

  4. Where I live in Scotland the deeds of our house state that we are not allowed to grow vegetables in the front garden and there are strict rules on the height of plants the closer we get to our boundaries. I've grown ruby chard in the front and if anyone was to question it I would tell them it was an ornamental foliage plant. I think that lady is one brave women and it will be interesting to see how she fairs against the bylaws.

  5. I went to "like" her Facebook page as you suggested, and someone had just posted that the charges were dropped– yay!

  6. Agree with meemsync- it sure beats the "car gardens" some people have. In our town, it seems code enforcement does not come out unless someone complains. (They do remove flyers from telephone poles and the like, though.)

  7. Yay – Thanks trickortreat for letting me know, and to all the other people who acted on this – It's good to know there is power in the masses. However – it's not the end of the story by far… more coming in next post…

  8. Couldn't believe this story when I first read it. Some people just don't have any sense.

    Barri x

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