Slow News Day: MI Woman Faces Jail Time for Front Yard Vegetable Garden

There are many thriving front yard gardens, not the least of which is First Lady Michelle Obama‘s, which happens to be on the White House lawn, growing fresh vegetables for visiting dignitaries as well as for Washington D.C.’s homeless.

But for all the terrific stories about creative front-yard re-use that turns water-guzzling ornamental lawns into food-producing habitats, like this cottage garden on a sidewalk in industrial Brooklyn and this front yard farm in Benicia, CA, there are stories like this recent one of homeowners associations and community ordinances run amok:

A Michigan woman is facing jail time for planting some raised vegetable beds on her front lawn. Insane, right? Apparently the ordinance in Julie Bass‘ Oak Park, MI, neighborhood calls for “suitable” plant materials on ones front lawn. Aside from the fact that the city does not provide a definition of “suitable”, many may wonder just what is so unsuitable about growing food, as opposed to plants that are (some might argue) merely ornamental. Many, like me, see front-yard gardens as a small act of viability and sustainability, an effort to save the money and the fuel it takes to grow and package and transport and stock and purchase non-local food.

Julie Bass’ garden, above.
Benicia, CA, garden, below.

And if you think Julie Bass in Oak Park is alone, the same thing happened to Asa Dodsworth in Berkeley, CA, a place highly associated with progressiveness and sustainability.

According to Pamela Price at Red, White & Grew, this case should provide a springboard for a national dialogue about protecting  home gardeners by creating better opportunities and fewer barriers for them to simply grow their own food on the land they have. She spoke about the issue at Tedx San Antonio.

The issue is large in scope, Pamela and Holly Hirshberg of The Dinner Garden say. Individual growers fight hunger, save money, gain food security, and feed many others in their communities with their homegrown food and with the seeds they harvest and share.

There is obviously still much education that needs to happen before everyone values the front lawn for practicality and production as much as for a conventional and conformist idea of beauty.

There are some ways to help Julie Bass in Michigan, like this petition on the Care2 site and other suggestions on the Treehugger site. Red, White & Grew and The Dinner Garden are also great resources about the power of home gardens to feed and help many.

Photos by White House, Julie Bass, Susan Sachs Lipman

You may also be interested in:
School and Community Gardens Grow More than Food

UPDATE: Largely due to internet uproar, the charges against Julie Bass have been dropped.



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6 responses to “Slow News Day: MI Woman Faces Jail Time for Front Yard Vegetable Garden

  1. Some basics on aesthetics gone wrong! Hers looks absolutely prim and nicely done. If we were to look at the front yards of some of our neighbors or even the backyards (of corner houses), hers will put those to shame. Pity we do not realize that the well trimmed lush green lawns are sunk cost with no returns.

    • Hi There Roses/Mamamagic! I completely agree with you that the garden in question is actually very neat. And, likewise, that the costs and benefits of a useful versus an aesthetic garden should come into play. (I think healthy growing things are quite beautiful anyway.) Crazy world! I enjoyed seeing your blog and hope you stay in touch.

  2. If you haven’t already, please sign the petition and tell Oak Park not to prosecute Julie Bass. Over 21,000 have already signed –

    — Sue Anne Reed
    Care2 Communications Manager

  3. This is insane. I swear there is no common sense left in this world. I will be signing the petition, etc. — but I’m really disturbed that any action must be taken to save this woman from jail time. Jail time! For a veggie garden?

  4. Hi Michele. I think your outrage is well-placed. Luckily a lot of people have become very involved with this story and I believe Julie Bass will be saved jail time. But, still .. What a set of misplaced priorities that we would actually be discussing this!

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