Independence, self-sufficiency, resilience, preparedness. These are words once associated with the American dream, with the pioneer spirit that led countless people to abandon their native shores in favor of the land of the free and the home of the brave. What a shame, then, that the government of what was once the land of opportunity now loathes nothing so much as those individuals who don’t depend on it for their very survival.
That this attitude is pervasive among regulators is evident in nearly everything the state does, from the chilling “Life of Julia” video the Obama administration used to illustrate a life of dependency, to the unspoken assumptions behind every health care or education bill that treats people as helpless children.
A city in Ohio is struggling with the thorny question of whether to allow people to grow gardens in their yards—not the front yards, but only the back ones, mind you. It seems that the city regards home-cultivation as de facto illegal unless it is expressly authorized by law. Ohio is not alone in this; all over the U.S. local laws prevent citizens from growing their own food. It's almost as if the powers that be don't want you to be able to take care of yourself.
A particularly striking case of the state forcibly prohibiting self-reliance was that of a Tulsa, Oklahoma woman, who in 2012 took the city to court over its decision to ruthlessly chop down her meticulously cultivated garden of edible and medicinal plants. Without due process or attention to the letter of the law, men were dispatched to destroy Denise Morrison’s garden after an alleged complaint by neighbors. She received a notice asking her to remove “trash, junk and debris,” as well as grass over 12 inches tall, vines, and overgrowth.
To be clear, there is no law or regulation in Tulsa forbidding Morrison’s garden. In fact, she went out of her way to avoid being in violation of a statute that prohibits non-edible plants more than 12 inches high; all of her plants are edible, and many have medicinal value. Nevertheless, she ultimately lost her case.
A personal garden may seem like a trivial thing to make a fuss over, and from the city’s point of view it is, but it’s important to understand that in many cases, gardens such as Morrison’s are not purely decorative. Morrison herself used the plants she grew, not only for food, but also to treat her high blood pressure and arthritis.
In a country where access to medicine is becoming increasingly limited and expensive as a result of misguided and incompetent legislators, it’s crucial that individuals have an avenue to circumvent the madness of insurance companies and hospital visits. The more people are able to take direct control of their health, the better for everyone involved. Herbal remedies grown at home can cut down on doctor congestion, and remove people from insurance pools who might drive up the cost for others. Traditional pharmaceuticals will be freed up for those who need them the most, and of course the patients themselves will save money by treating themselves at home.
Increasing the average person’s direct control over their health care is the goal of many new technologies, such as a variety of smartphone apps that the FDA has been fretting over. Home medicine gardens are an old school application of the same concept. And while the applications are admittedly limited, and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t let people like Morrison practice the self-sufficiency of which they are clearly capable.
Morrison’s case may be an isolated one, the case of a city bullying a woman with little ability to defend herself, but we should all be concerned every time the state steps in to prevent people from taking care of themselves, an ability to which we should all aspire. As the libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz once said, “The proverb warns that you should not bite the hand that feeds you, but maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.”