Front Yard Vegetable Gardens: Different is Good
Photo Credit: Julie Bass
Since I wrote about the Michigan woman who is facing 93 days in jail for planting a vegetable garden last Friday, the story has just exploded. TIME, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Geek Mom, CRAFT, Grist, and Daily Kos -- along with plenty of other blogs -- have covered the story. It never fails that someone in the comment section defends the city of Oak Park's actions by saying "why should the neighbors have to look at that?"
Let's look at that, shall we? It assumes that the rest of us must want to look at boring swaths of lawn punctuated by a few shrubs (usually sheared to within an inch of their lives in some sad form of suburban quasi-topiary). It's at the crux of the argument for why the city of Oak Park is prosecuting Julie Bass for her front yard vegetable garden. City planner Kevin Rulkowski said, in an interview with the Detroit News: "A tomato vine on a tomato cage is just not attractive," he said. "Add that to the big wooden boxes. It's not the first impression people often put in front of their home ... or want to see in their neighborhood."
Apparently, there are plenty of people out there who want to see that very thing in their neighborhood. Consider Sacramento, where, in 2007, the city council adapted the official Front Yard Ordinance to specifically state that vegetable gardens were allowed so residents wouldn't be harassed (this after one homeowner was cited for having a garden, and then, when she didn't remove it, RoundUp was sprayed all over her garden, destroying it.)
Consider the upscale suburb of Northbrook, Illinois, where a woman was told she had to remove her front yard veggie garden by the end of the growing season, and couldn't plant another. She refused, and was fined and cited. Local media and activists took up her cause, and the village council rewrote the code, saying that front yard veggies were allowed, as long as the homeowner had a permit for it and adhered to certain rules about maintaining the garden.
Consider many other cities across North America, both big and small, that have laws on the books protecting a homeowner's right to grow a front yard vegetable garden: Vancouver, Portland (OR), Los Angeles and Pasadena, just to name a few. Consider the fact that just a few miles away from Oak Park, Michigan, in the cities of Ferndale and Royal Oak, gardeners are growing front yard veggies.
Apparently, when Mr. Rulkowski stated that "I don't know of any community where I have seen a full garden in the front yard. In planing and zoning, we try and put things in appropriate places," he didn't bother researching first. A cursory glance through the web provides results for not just the cities mentioned above, but also entire books written on the topic, such as Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates, Heather Flores' Food Not Lawns, and Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard.
So, front yard vegetable gardens are different, but certainly not unheard of. There are plenty of examples out there of cities who allow their residents to eschew the lawn and plant food instead, and we have yet to hear of any of these cities imploding as a result. If a front yard vegetable garden is good enough for Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama, maybe, just maybe, it's good enough for the rest of us.