I was walking in a friend’s upscale neighborhood in Cottonwood Canyon, just outside of Salt Lake City last summer when I happened upon the coolest thing. There, in the wasted strip of earth between the sidewalk and the street, tall stalks of corn were ripening and squash vines had spread lush green tentacles with fat yellow blooms.
As I stopped to take this photo, a resident tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was doing. “This is just so great,” I said. “I want to get a picture.”
She grunted. “Depends on your perspective,” she said. End of conversation.
It hadn’t occurred to me that every resident of this conservative suburb might not think corn and squash growing in front yards was the coolest thing. In fact, my friend told me later, considerable controversy was brewing in the neighborhood about the handful of residents who had planted vegetables by the curb. To me, these gardens are a smart, efficient use of fertile earth that would otherwise have to be mown. In Oak Park, Michigan, such gardens are a jailing offense.
After watching the movie Food Inc., Julie Bass, a mother of six, also thought it would be “really cool” to plant vegetables in her Oak Park front yard, and the kids in her neighborhood rallied to help. In five raised beds, she grows squashes, corn, tomatoes, flowers, and other veggies—and the city doesn’t like it. “That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” Oak Park city planner Kevin Rulkowski told WJBK.
Still, Bass had no idea that planting her garden was a criminal act. After she ignored a warning from the city telling her to remove the vegetable garden because it doesn't adhere to city ordinances, she was charged with a misdemeanor. Her jury trial is set to begin on July 26, and she faces up to 93 days in jail.
Julie Bass's fledgling front-yard vegetable garden. Photo courtesy of Oak Park Hates Veggies Facebook group
“Seriously?” she writes in her blog Oak Park Hates Veggies. “It’s a garden. It’s not a high crime or treason or murder. It’s vegetables. And yes, we did throw in a few flowers.”
A Facebook group to support Bass, Oak Park Hates Veggies, has more than 18,000 fans. A Care2 petition to end the prosecution has garnered more than 21,000 signatures—exceeding the 20,000 signature goal.
I hope my friends’ neighbors in Utah are taking note. Actually, I hope people in neighborhoods everywhere will not only take note but get out the shovels. There’s still time to plant a fall crop of carrots, chard, kale or French beans in the front yard. The possibilities (and the otherwise wasted lawn space) are endless.