UPDATE: Charges have been dropped by the city of Oak Park. See the end of this post for details.
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?
Since covering this story, we've added more coverage about front yard veggie gardens and gardener's rights. Here are more stories that might interest you:
- Front Yard Vegetable Gardens: Different is Good
- British Columbia Man Faces 6 Months in Jail for Growing Food
- Toronto Changes City Ordinance; Front Yard Vegetable Gardens Now Legal
UPDATE: Charges Dropped!
According to Mrs. Bass' latest post on her blog, the misdemeanor charge against her for growing vegetables in her front yard has been dropped. Her attorney went to the courthouse earlier today to file a motion to dismiss the charges, and was told that the charges had already been dropped. However: the ordinance has not been changed, and Mrs. Bass still has her garden. We'll be keeping an eye on this story for further developments.
More on gardening
Slideshow: Sustainable Garden Starter Kit: 10 Must-Have Products for the New Green, Grower
How to Go Green: Gardening
Quiz: How Green is Your Garden?
Your Complete Guide to Summer Vegetable Gardening - Planet Green