Michigan Woman Could Get 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Garden
by Kris Bordessa
When the Bass family had to tear into their lawn to repair a sewer line, instead of replacing the grass they decided to plant a vegetable garden. Oak Park city officials were not impressed with the family’s idea and asked them to move the garden to the backyard.
“Five beds, six yards of compost, about 90 plants – but most important of all, on principle — no!!!!” says Julie Bass.
Short of a little container gardening, this is the first time the Bass family has grown a garden. But instead of focusing their efforts on developing new gardening skills and harvesting the fruits of their labor, Julie Bass, a mother of six, finds herself facing a court battle and possibly jail time.
Over a vegetable garden.
The family would love to raise chickens for fresh eggs, have a goat for milking, and generate electricity with a windmill. They haven’t done so because those activities are not allowed in Oak Park. Vegetable gardening, however, is not explicitly against city codes. So what’s the problem? City code requires that front yard landscapes have “suitable, live plant material.” Well, since the plants in the Bass front yard are not made of silk or plastic, it appears that the battle is over what’s “suitable.”
Is a green lawn maintained with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and trimmed with a gasoline-powered mower suitable? Not in my book. I think it’s entirely UNsuitable to expose our communities to the dangers of poisons on a daily basis just to maintain conformity.
“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,” says Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski in an interview on WJBK Fox News in Detroit.
Following that line of thought, would the front yard vegetable garden become suitable if the majority of households in the Bass’ Oak Park neighborhood tore out their lawns and planted vegetable gardens of their own? Vegetable gardens would then be common, and by your reasoning, thus, “suitable.”
“That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” says Rulkowski about the Bass’ veggies.
Beg pardon, Mr. Rulkowski, but who are you to say what is and isn’t desirable – or suitable – in a front yard? Determining what passes for “suitable” landscape is purely subjective. Your opinion surely differs from that of the Bass family and many of their neighbors.
Is a statue of St. Anthony suitable? Or what about topiary? Where exactly is the line – and who draws it?
You know what I think is suitable and desirable?
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