Mother Threatened with Jail Time for Planting Vegetables

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Mom Threatened with Jail Time for Vegetable Garden Oak Park Michigan

Jail time for planting a vegetable garden in your front lawn?  This is a definite possibility for a mother in Oak Park, Michigan.  The government authorities there have some real concerns over her front yard raised bed garden and claim it violates community standards.

But is this just another example of government intruding on individual liberties?

My husband–bless his heart–actually suggested a couple of years ago that we plant a vegetable garden in our front yard.  His point was logical, in its own way.   Our front yard gets a lot more sun than our back yard, so it's more suitable for raising vegetables.  But I quickly put the cabash on that suggestion!


Well, I do think it's a good idea to be considerate of our neighbors' feelings.  But do we want the government intruding in a situation like this?

This is the situation in Oak Park, MI:  Julie Bass decided to plant a vegetable garden in her front lawn.  The Oak Park authorities told her that this was a violation of community standards and ordered her to remove the garden.  Ms. Bass refused.  She is now facing the possibility of 93 days in jail, and her pre-trail hearing is set for July 26.

For more details of this story, see: My Fox Detroit.

As you might guess, I have some serious concerns about the Oak Park government's position in all this.

Concerns Regarding Julie Bass vs. Oak Park:

1.  Faulty basis for government accusation

Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski states that the problem is with the city's law that the front yard have in it only “suitable live plant material.”  He then quotes Webster's Dictionary as having “suitable” defined as being “common.”

First of all, Mr. Rulkowski is wrong.  Both in my 1977 copy of Webster's and the online Webster's site, “suitable” is defined as:

1 obsolete : similar, matching
2a : adapted to a use or purpose <suitable for kitchen use> b : satisfying propriety : proper <suitable dress> c : able, qualified <a suitable candidate for the job>
The placement of the word “obsolete” before the first definition means that it is no longer used.

So the question is then, is Julie Bass' garden “adapted to a use or purpose” or “satisfying propriety”?

Seems like a rather ambiguous judgment call, especially when one considers that Ms. Bass' garden seems well maintained and certainly no more unsightly than a poorly maintained front lawn.  (Will the Oak Park authorities be going after those folks next?)

2. Big and Invasive Government

This is becoming a common theme in our culture these days.

For more reading on other atrocious ways that the government is attempting to control every aspect of our lives, see my posts on:

There is a group here in my hometown that has as its aim aiding residents to plant vegetable gardens in their front yards.
I wonder what they will think about this?


3. Concerns About Ms. Bass' Conduct

In the article on Natural News, Mr. Rulkowski states that Ms. Bass called his office prior to planting and was told not to do it.  That does not seem to match Ms. Bass' story, but it is not clear what the truth is here.

I phoned Ms. Bass yesterday evening and left her a message indicating that I needed further information for my post in order to clarify this point.  I have not heard back from her yet.  When and if I do, I will post her response.

Even if she did call, and was told not to plant, I am not sure that I am opposed to her having the garden.  However, when I see an inconsistency like this it gives me pause to put my support completely behind Ms. Bass until I have the details confirmed.

My personal opinion is that I think she would have been better served to have just one or two vegetable gardens places in a more attractive arrangement on her front yard.  However, there are lots of unattractive houses and things on front yards that I have seen in neighborhoods that I have lived in and driven through, and I don't think that it is the government's place to dictate how attractive one's front yard needs to be.

Whatever happened to just common sense and responsibility?  Can't Julie Bass's neighbors tell her what they think?  And isn't that enough?

If you are so inclined, you can click here to sign a petition to allow Ms. Bass to grow her vegetable garden.  At the time of posting there were over 15,000 signatures and counting.

What do you think?  A Ban on Front Yard Veggies or Hands Off Our Yards?

{Photo Credit}

Shared at Real Food Wednesday, Food on Fridays, Fight Back Friday, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Lives Thursday.


These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.


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  1. If you read Julie’s blog, she explains that she was never told not to grow her front yard garden. The person she asked suggested not to do it, but when she asked if there was a specific law forbidding it, he only pointed her to the “suitable vegetable matter” clause. She said that it didn’t seem that vegetables were unsuitable, so she would go ahead and put them in. She did leave a strip by the road that is planted in grass.

    Call me biased, but I have a front yard garden — barely noticeable, because I include it in the landscape — and I don’t think it’s anyone’s business but mine what I put in my yard. I did pay good money for it, after all! But no one has complained, and my neighbor, when I apologized for a few green beans that were growing through the fence, just said he’d get a free bonus of a couple of beans if they flowered!

    • Sheila, thanks for that info. I stopped by Julie’s blog and actually called her asking if I could talk with her about the details of the situation to get accurate details about the situation. Thanks for the info! There are almost always two sides, eh?

  2. This is just amazing…There’s a wonderful new book called The Edible Front Yard that offers plans and plant lists for front yard gardens. It’s wonderful and it advocates creating front yard gardens that are both pleasing to the eye and the pallet!
    Thanks for entering this post on the farmgirl friday blog hop!

  3. I just want to make another observation, percolating in my brain since I posted the last: I agree that unfortunately this case is compromised by the woman’s inconsistent statements, she’s not the best “poster child” for this situation.

    However, unless I join some homeowner’s association with restrictive rules (which I would NEVER do), I just want to be sure that my neighbors and myself abide by certain health code rules, and regular noise level rules within reason — I really don’t care that one neighbor hosts a loud party twice a year, he’s entitled. I’ve purposefully sown white clover seeds (legume nitrogen-fixing properties) in my pesticide-free and non-currently-American-ideal lawn.

    I seriously don’t think what one grows in one’s front yard should be the bizwax of ANY municipal entity.

    • I’d love to say we all had a choice in whether we joined a homeowner’s association or not, but where I live, you’re either going to be in a homeowner’s association or you’re going to be living out in the country a pretty far piece away from the city. Even the distant suburbs have homeowners’ associations out here. I could go on a huge rant about those associations myself – I despise ours – but it’s a catch-22 in a lot of ways. You either buy an affordable home close to where you work with a hoa, or you commute from a house with land out in the country that costs three times as much. You can’t win.

  4. At first, I thought this was a homeowner’s association thing, but it does appear to be a city thing.

    It’s green (most of it) and growing, I hate cookie-cutter yards that look the same one home to the next. If I were that town, I’d be proud of her, giving the eye a visual treat, if nothing else.

    And, actually, I do grow veggies in my own front yard. You can’t see them from the road, due to the terrain around here, but that’s where the sun, such as it is, is. And I have a tomato plant standing guard at my front door, which you probably can see.

    I love my neighborhood. We’re all permitted to be different here. When I first moved here, my folks were concerned about the car up on blocks in the yard next to mine. I just simply figured, anything I do, or fail to do, is bound to look better. And it’s not making noise, so all’s good. (New people there now and the car is gone.)

  5. I have mixed feeling on this. I agree that you should be able to grow vegetables in your front yard, but I’m not sure if the traditional raised gardens are attractive enough for the front yard. I kinda think you should try to integrate it more and make it look more attractive. Having beds with beautiful herbs with a few veggies intermixed and maybe an attractive grape trellis seem like a better way to grow in the front. I think it also depends on your community. I know my community would be screaming if we put raised beds like that in the front yard. In our neighborhood if you just go a couple of weeks without mowing, you get a $200 fine.

  6. It is “interesting” that the HOA’s make these kind of rules. For instance, in many, you are not allowed to hang laundry outside to dry. I think it all smacks of haughtiness. Just my opinion.

    • I think some of the rules are OK – I mean, who wants to live next door to someone who never gets their trash taken away?

      However, our culture (me included) has gotten way too caught up in appearance issues. I like the appearance of a well-manicured lawn, but for health reasons, I would prefer that people eschew the chemicals and allow the clovers to flourish :-).

  7. Well, it appears to me that this lady is bucking the system, not complying with the ensuing instruction, and making an example of herself. I am conflicted for her as well. I applaud her attempt, but once done, perhaps she would better serve her intentions by graciously making some noise (newspaper, blogging, petitions, etc.) rather than outright refusal.

    I live in a subdivision that has homeowners restrictions. We created a raised bed off in the back a bit about nine years ago, and I’ve noticed a few other neighbors have followed suit. In this economy, I have thought that it would be a good idea for our homeowners’ association to allow a certain percentage of the property, or even an allotted amount of square footage space to gardening – front or back. Our property is a piece that has the unfortunate shady backyard. Great for hammocks and cooling retreat, but not for gardens. We are considering ways to sneak in a bit more planting up front, but if the powers that be come knocking…. game over… or we make some noise. Jail is not an option.

    • Shyla – I agree with you. I just thought that while, in essence, I am one for much-reduced government and I think that the gov’t in this case is WAY overdoing it (not to mention their incorrect assessment of the language used in their own laws), I think she could have and should have handled it in a much better way.

      There is a local ministry here that, from what I understand, is helping families to plant raised bed gardens in their front yards, including vegetable gardens. I think it would be quite charming to have 1-2 raised beds in a sunny corner of a front yard. What a nice way to benefit the community and aid in reducing our food budgets. By the way, have you thought of strawberries or other berry bushes? I think they can blend right in with a front yard :-).

  8. Reading your post brought to mind my home owners association (HOA). Here in Texas most property is non-restricted therefore each community creates their own rules (deed-restrictions). It is possible and in some cases preferable to purchase property non-restricted however that leaves you open to all kinds of nuisances from neighbors…junk yards, un-kept property, etc…

    I mostly agree with your opinion above however I know most cities require laws to be maintained and cut regularly and as we know gardens tend to not be “manicured” as many authorities require. Without these rules we may have to deal with neighbors that have abandoned vehicles or over-grown lawns that attract snakes and rodents…it’s a catch 22.

    It’s a great lesson to be aware of the location and all the restrictions before considering purchasing a property.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Thanks, Deanna. Actually, if you read the end of the post you will see that I am a bit conflicted on this. I am concerned about the conflicting information that I am reading. I do think the government is being ridiculous, however. How about just asking her to change 2 gardens into lawn and leave the rest?

  9. Man, I really couldn’t believe this one. I saw it on Healthy Home Economist. Yikes! I signed the petition for sure.