Wednesday, July 13, 2011

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