Sunday, July 10, 2011

Criminal gardener

Practical Parsimony beat me to it; however, I came across this story and included a snippet about it in my church newsletter on sustainable living. 

Julie Bass, an Oak Park, MN resident, thought that when the town tore up their yard to replace a sewer line, it would be more efficient, frugal, and healthy to replace the grass with a front yard vegetable garden.  The city disagrees and told her to take the garden down or move it to her back yard. 

This wife and mother of six has asked for her day in court.  The trial will be on July 26th.  If convicted, she could face up to 93 days in jail. .

Among many of her neighbors, the garden is a hit. Neighborhood kids help her out with it.  The garden itself is neat and tidy.  But someone called the town hall to complain, and the town told her to move the garden.

The town ordinance says that any unpaved areas shall be covered with suitable plant material.  The town's Planning and Technology Director, said that "suitable" meant "common" (he cited the dictionary).

Ms. Bass wants her day in court--if she loses, she could face up to 93 days in jail.  She started a blog, which I highly reccommend you read to get updates.

One suggestion I'd have for her neighbors who back her is to plant front yard vegetable gardens themselves.  If they suddenly become common then the town will have no leg to stand on.  Another suggestion I'd make--which Julie made on her blog--is to not harass town officials at their homes, try to find their personal information or the names of their kids (holy moly, I mean seriously??), or generally act like bullies.  Send your concerns to the proper town office, keep it in a civil and adult tone, and maybe make sure your town doesn't have such an ordinance.    And if it does, organize with other residents to change it.

These ordinances mean well--they want to make sure that properties are presentable and safe, and I get that.  I don't begrudge any town official doing their job, and on one level, I get where they're coming from.  Having lived near people who let their yard get overgrown, or who never kept it up, or who tore out the grass and then let the dirt just sit there and turn to runny mud during the spring rains, I can see why there are laws in place. 

But in my complex you learn to let certain things go.  One woman turned her small patio area into a beautiful shade garden, with a lot of impatiens and shade-loving green plants.  Technically, it's against the rules--you're supposed to just leave the ugly shrubbery there.  But her garden has added to the place.  Likewise, we're not going to get stroppy about someone trying to grow a tomato plant and some basil.  (I will just turn green with envy because, sob, I don't get enough sun on my balcony to grow anything edible.)

I don't get why they didn't suggest she plant grass around the raised bed containers, or turn the area between the containers into more of a flower garden with walking paths, etc.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing, but unfortnately, that is the way these conflicts often go.  The town really dropped the ball on this one.

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