Julie Bass is facing serious jail time for growing veggies in her front yard.
Ms Bass and her family live in a modest home Oak Park, Michigan and after a sewer line repair forced them to dig up their front yard, they decided that instead of replanting it with grass, they would grow vegetables in nice, raised beds. The city of Oak Park does not like the idea and wrote Julie a citation. She disagreed and is now facing a jury trial and possibly 93 days in jail.
The city and the Bass family are at odds over the meaning of the local code that reads;
"all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material"
Julie Bass says that her vegetables are planted material and quite suitable. The city views them as an eyesore that needs to be hidden away in the back yard. And so, the expensive machinery of local government will grind towards a jury trial. Yes, 12 citizens could be called to serve on this case, to decide if raised-bed gardens are "suitable live plant material."
Julie has taken her fight to the people and started a blog called "Oak Park Hates Veggies". The blog has many interesting stories, as well as recipes and of course updates on the battle with Oak Park. On the blog I learned that rain barrels and bat houses are also forbidden in Oak Park, MI. (Is collecting rain in a barrel viewed as cheating the city out of money that they could have made selling you water? And what could possibly be wrong with encouraging mosquito-eating bats to nest on your property?) There is also a tidy synopsis of how this all started;
after our sewer pipe was broken by the city’s tree roots, we had to dig up the entire lawn to get to the pipe and repair it (at our expense, thank you oak park…) after that we were left with a front yard covered in mounds of dirt.
we became interested in putting garden beds with vegetables, so i called the city to find out if it was permitted. after speaking to the person in charge of zoning, we were told that we probably couldn’t do a garden because nobody had ever asked about it before. since that is obviously not proof that it can’t be done, i asked the zoning person to please check on it for me. in our next call, he told me that he had been able to find out that we cannot put a fence around our front yard (????) but he had been unable to find anything about vegetable gardens in the front yard. the only thing he could find said that the city does allow decorative plantings.
ok, i thought- we have our answer. we can do decorative plantings- exactly what he told me we could do. WE WERE NEVER TOLD NOT TO DO IT. (contrary to his assertion on the news last night- ugh!!)
so, we had someone professionally make the garden beds so they would look nice. we planted grass on the front part of the yard, and put pathways between the garden boxes. we bought a pretty bench swing, and got pretty trellises for the tomatoes and the peas. we put garden paving stones out to make it nicer. we planted everything cleanly, in nice rows, with no huge plants that would hang over or look unkept. we thought we did pretty much everything in out power to comply with the city’s allowance of decorative plantings.
a week or two later, the code enforcer came out and gave us a warning- no vegetables allowed in front yard- must relocate. so i had a very pleasant conversation with the code enforcer and explained that i was under the impression that what we were doing was fine, and if it wasn’t fine- please show me where it says vegetables are prohibited. it doesn’t say that anywhere- but they told me that if i did not move the garden, i would get a citation. i kind of thought they were bluffing- just trying to pacify someone or something…
A broken sewer line connection caused the Bass family to re-think their front yard, and now they are engaged in a David & Goliath-like battle against their town. Of course the local media is gobbling up a story like this;
We are constantly bombarded with news stories about municipal governments facing one financial crisis after another. Many of these were caused by bloated governments filled with waste, fraud and abuse. The people of Oak Park, MI (myopic code enforcer who issued the citation) can now see with greater clarity where their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. And what about the prosecutor who is gathering evidence and preparing for a pre-trial hearing slated for later this month, are there no better uses for his/her time?
We will update as information becomes available, in the meantime, please take the poll on this issue.