I took a break outside and enjoyed my beautiful backyard for a moment on a lovely Northcoast day a few hours ago. I can sit out there for hours and enjoy the many fruits of our labors: Overflowing veggie beds, trees we planted with our own hands, a beautiful greenhouse and more. If I had this on my front yard in Oak Park Michigan I could go to jail...seriously.
A few years ago we didn't have all of this to enjoy because we rented and our only real yard was our front yard which was off limits for gardening for the most part. We wanted to plant a garden in the yard, but our landlords forbid us from doing so. Their reason? It wouldn't look good, in their opinion. So we planted things around the entire perimeter of the yard, some things grew in pots, and when we moved we uprooted the entire garden, moved it here, and then re-seeded the yard with grass. Now we have people asking us to give them garden tours, asking us how to make raised beds and grow veggies, and I am the admin for a large growing urban homesteading page that has turned into a powerful grassroots movement. Take that "don't plant a garden on your front lawn" land lords!
A few days ago I heard about a woman named Julie Bass who lives in Oak Park Michigan. She was cited and eventually charged with a misdemeanor for growing vegetables on her front lawn. Her story struck a cord in me because the reason she was given for not being allowed to have a front yard garden was much the same as the reason we were given a few years back. She was told that her vegetation was not "suitable" by the city planner, who went on to say that suitable meant "common" from Webster's Dictionary. I looked up the definitions for myself, and found that his definition is inaccurate. The definition for suitable has 3 meanings: 1.) similar, 2.) proper 3.) satisfying propriety. Now the city planner is claiming he used the legal definition for suitable, which is completely different from the Webster's definition. But he was recorded saying he used Webster's on camera, so there is no way he can back out of that one. Julie's story is all over the internet and was picked up this week by Grist, Washington Post, Treehugger, Huffington Post, and then the big hitter Drudge Report where the story was sandwiched between a picture of the space shuttle launch and Prince William and Kate for much of the day. How's that for press coverage?! The petition for Julie is now up to 4,400 signatures in just a few days, and the urban homesteading activists have only just begun.
As I sat out on my garden bench the famous quote by Thomas Jefferson came to mind, "If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." Is this what it's come to America: The government dictating what foods we eat? Honestly, I doubt that the Bass family of 8 could even afford organic vegetables, I know that my family of 4 certainly can't! So the city of Oak Park is dictating that Julie and her family won't be able to eat organic vegetables ultimately, is it not? Julie asked specifically if the city codes prohibited growing vegetables. The city planner's response? "I don't know." He never gave a definitive answer either way, and now he's attempting to manipulate language and definitions to suit his purposes. What has this country come to if a family isn't allowed to grow their own vegetables, seriously? Just because her yard doesn't look exactly like the other yards in her neighborhood she was given and misdemeanor and could spend 93 days in prison. I've read that the city of Oak Park is having financial issues, and honestly it sounds to me like they're trying to make a buck off of Julie. It's a sorry situation in more ways that one, and I feel at this point they should throw in the trowel, I mean towel and let Julie feed her family in these tough economic times.
So what do you think? Should Julie be allowed to grow veggies in her front yard?