During World War II they were called Victory Gardens, but now some people are looking at them as a nuisance. Recently, Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan was facing the possibility of being sent to jail for over ninety days for her vegetable garden. Bass had placed her vegetable garden in the front yard in an effort to be a good example and inspiration for her neighbors. The city argued that her garden went against code that said "a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material." According to Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski: "If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster's dictionary, it will say common. So if you look around and you look in any other community, what's common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers." Though he is right that front lawns are common, there is the unfortunate fact that maintaining lawns as what people see fit in this day and age leads to lots of pesticides and fertilizers that run off into our water supply. Bass decided to do something great and different and they tried to punish her for that.
A nuisance lawn? Photo care of Julie Bass.Thankfully, since Bass stuck to her principals and so much media attention was brought about by the uproar over the garden, Mayor Gerry Naftaly got involved and stated that she would not be facing jail time and instead the city was actually considering reworking the ordinance to allow front-yard vegetable gardens as several cities have also followed suit and done in the recent past.
Sadly, this same story is being repeated in Memphis, Tennessee. Math teacher, Adam Guerrero has been told to remove his urban garden by a judge because it was deemed to be a nuisance. Better yet, he was told that he failed to maintain "a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage." Since when were seven-foot-tall sunflowers "rubbish or garbage"? Guerrero has used this garden as a teaching tool for his students and that could be soon put to an end, because he is expected to return to court September 23rd to "demonstrate that he has complied with the judge's orders."
Oddly enough, a lot of these ordinances came about after World War II when soldiers were returning home and starting families in the suburbs. Many of the same ordinances that ban goats, chickens and bee hives along with front-yard vegetable gardens were put in place to further remove us from the idea of this being an agrarian society. But with the ever increasing populace and growing demand for food, putting up a definitive line between where you can live and where you can grow is becoming more and more unmaintainable. We as New Yorkers are quite lucky that we can do things like have roof gardens bees and chickens. Sure there are still landlords out there that push against those ideas, but at least the city of New York is not against us in this case unlike so many others across the nation.
Photo care of Buildaroo.