ONTD Political

Michigan Woman could go to jail for planting vegetable garden

7:52 pm - 07/10/2011

Oak Park Woman Faces 93-Days in Jail For Planting Vegetable Garden: MyFoxDETROIT.com

Washington Post: Julie Bass may face jail time for planting vegetables
By Sarah Anne Hughes

A Michigan woman might be facing prison time for planting vegetables.

Julie Bass that it would be “really cool” to create a four plot vegetable garden in her Oak Park, Mich., front yard. “The kids from the neighborhood all come and help,” she told WJBK in Detroit.

You know who doesn't love it? The City of Oak Park. Bass has been charged with a misdemeanor for violating a city code, after she ignored a a warning and a ticket.

“That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski told WJBK.

According to the city, a yard must have “suitable, live, plant material,” and Bass’ yard violates the “suitable” part of the requirement, Rulkowki said .
“If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster’s dictionary, it will say common,” he explained. “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.”

This definition may be slightly off. Merriam-Webster gives three definitions for suitable: “adapt to a use or purpose,” “satisfying propriety” and “able or qualified.”
Neighbors interviewed about the garden both support it — “I think it's a very wonderful thing for our neighborhood” — and dislike it — “I know there’s a back yard. Do it in the back yard.”

Bass has a response for that: “They say, ‘Why should you grow things in the front?’ Well, why shouldn’t I? They’re fine. They’re pretty. They’re well maintained.”

A Facebook group, “Oak Park Hates Veggies,” has been created in support of Bass, with organizers providing addresses for city officials. A petition to end the prosecution has been started on Care2 with 1,886 signatures so far.

You can check out pictures of the offending garden here.

I've been following this story since June 30th, when I first blogged about it under the title of Oak Park Woman plants vegetable garden; city objects. I live on one side of Oak Park and work on the other and I've seen this garden in person. It's the tidiest vegetable garden I've ever encountered.

On Friday, the story went viral. A check of Google News shows 66 results for "Juile Bass", all of which are about this story and are all from July 8th or later. Not only are the environmental sites, such as Grist and Treehugger covering it in addition to liberal sites like Huffington Post, but non-liberal, non-environmental, and non-American sites like The Daily Mail (UK) are covering it as well.

As for what prompted this coverage, A couple of days ago, Matt Drudge placed a link to The Agitator's post on his front page with the headline "Woman faces 93 days in jail for planting garden in front yard..." Gawker followed suit. From those two sources, the story spread like wildfire. Behold the power of Drudge.
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chasingtides 11th-Jul-2011 02:12 pm (UTC)
What the hell? I mean, honestly, isn't it her front yard?
brewsternorth 11th-Jul-2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
Well, as the OP said in the Dreamwidth version of this post, Oak Park MI is so terrified of sharing in Detroit's blight that it's decreed that it has the right to rule on the contents of people's front yards, not limited to the contents of their flowerbeds either.
klutzy_girl 11th-Jul-2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
WTF? That is so stupid. Let the woman have her garden! There's nothing wrong with it.
brewsternorth 11th-Jul-2011 02:25 pm (UTC)
Quite! It resembles a Tudor formal-garden in its elegance, and it's looking a lot "greener" than if it had been a mere lawn.
apocalypsos 11th-Jul-2011 02:22 pm (UTC)
“I know there’s a back yard. Do it in the back yard.”

It's a GARDEN. It's not like she's nude sunbathing, for Christ's sake.
ceilidh 11th-Jul-2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
Maybe the front yard gets better sun or something and that's why she's doing it? Who knows!
serendipity_15 11th-Jul-2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
At least her front yard looks GREEN, the other ones I see like like they're dying.
cindel 11th-Jul-2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
Caught feeling over some Vegetables? GTFO!
papilio_luna This is a vegetable garden pic thread!11th-Jul-2011 02:32 pm (UTC)

That's my back yard. I know it doesn't look like it, but we do live in the city. We just back on a cliff that's too steep to build on, hence the woods.

The right side of my front walk is my herb garden:
brewsternorth Re: This is a vegetable garden pic thread!11th-Jul-2011 02:47 pm (UTC)
Looks like a very good use of the space!
c_yo_yus 11th-Jul-2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
It's absolutely ridiculous that she can't have this in her yard. Her property, her rights.

On the other hand, I really hate it when these stories come up and we learn that the person is only facing jail time or eviction because they've ignored tickets and citations. What did this woman think was going to happen? Looks like there was plenty of time and outlets to actually negotiate this with the city, or least of all she could've drummed up support in the community before it reached this point.
ceilidh 11th-Jul-2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
I really hate it when these stories come up and we learn that the person is only facing jail time or eviction because they've ignored tickets and citations.

I know, but look at this from her blog:

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…

so, i searched online for the zoning codes- nowhere to be found. i went to the city office and asked for a copy of the codes- i was told they don’t have a copy. i asked if there are pamphlets or something for the citizens, so we can know what we are allowed to do and not allowed to do. they didn’t have that either. someone suggested that maybe i should try our public library- but they are closed for renovations until some time in july. i asked how they enforced violations if nobody in the city had a copy of the codes. they said that they figured the code enforcer probably knew the rules… circle back to square one…

the citation arrived, and we were cited for having vegetables. the code says that all unpaved surfaces shall be covered with grass, shrubbery, or suitable live plant material. i figured we were fine- we do have suitable live plant material. the city told us that suitable means flowers. then they told us it means you can’t have vegetables. in court, they said suitable means similar to the neighbors. in the interview last night the zoning person gave some weird obsolete definition of the word suitable. it’s like the twilight zone. and all along we have gone out of our way to do the right thing! we still think what we have is suitable. that’s the problem.

She's trying to comply with the rules when a copy of the rules don't even exist.
mercaque 11th-Jul-2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
Kevin Rulkowski needs to get a life.
katiechainsaw 11th-Jul-2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
WTF?! Like, seriously, WTF?!
smirk_dog 11th-Jul-2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
This does not surprise me in the slightest, sadly.
ladypeyton 11th-Jul-2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
Ridiculous. I hate the US's irrational worship of grass.
archanglrobriel 11th-Jul-2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
THIS. So much! Grass takes up a ton of water, requires maintenance and upkeep totally disproportionate to it's value and in the end contributes very little to the world. And yet there's this idea that no matter what climate you live in, no matter what the water situation is there, no matter how many chemicals you have to pour onto your dirt to get it to grow... you MUST have a big, green, lush lawn.
I'd -much- rather see people's front lawns growing veggies and "Multiple Recession" gardens as opposed to stretches of green grass. Unless the person has a goat eating it. ;)
sasha_davidovna 11th-Jul-2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
I'm a little surprised a homeowner's association isn't involved with this, since they're usually the ones responsible for such ridiculousness, not city governments.

As a native plant enthusiast, I hear horror stories all the time of people's beautiful native gardens being forcibly ripped up and replanted in lawn, despite the fact that native plants are better in basically every possible way for the environment and more attractive to boot. Doesn't surprise me that they're now moving on to veggie gardens. Heaven forbid you get food anywhere but the local Walmart, after all. :P
skellington1 11th-Jul-2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Gaaaah! That makes me so glad to live where I do (NW US) -- here the native plant society, the city stormwater people, and the county conservation district are all basically on the same page for that. The city plantings aren't always great (They feel they have to water everything, all the time, which I see as wasteful and poor garden design), but they encourage native plants.

Still a hell of a lot of lawn around, but I'm doing my bit removing mine. My original goal was that at least half the species I put in my yarden be native, and I'm overshooting it substantially. :)
lickety_split 11th-Jul-2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
I thought it was... normal, for a city to control what you can and can't keep in plain view on your own property? My neighbors probably would have complained too, especially since it's still in the beginning phase where it's mostly dirt and ugly.
lickety_split 11th-Jul-2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
K, maybe my neighbors wouldn't. They'd at least wait to see what it looked like when it grew nice and tall before complaining. They should give her a little more time for the grass in front to grow in and the plants to get pretty and full.
mephisto5 11th-Jul-2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
I thought the US was meant to be all libertarian and stuff? WTF is this about not being able to do whatever you want on your own land?
thecityofdis 11th-Jul-2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Excuse you, property rights are next to godliness. Unless you want to do something to your property that makes it look like poor people live there, because then the value of everybody else's property goes down.
sephystabbity 11th-Jul-2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
Because there aren't much worse criminals the city could be spending resources in catching. =0
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