Oak Park Gardener Faces 93 Days in Jail for Her Veggies — and How You Can Help
(Thanks to www.plantgasm.com for the graphic.)
The story of a Michigan mother named Julie Bass who is facing a jury trial and jail time for her front-yard vegetable garden has exploded all over internet news sites and blogs. You may already be familiar with the story, but if you’d like you can read our first post about it, Julie’s recap of the facts of the situation, and the post where she reveals that she’s been threatened with jail time over her garden.
Julie Bass does not live in an HOA or a covenant-controlled community. She checked with the city codes and city folk before planting her garden. She did not find any rules that forbid front-yard vegetables. She was told that “decorative” plants were allowed. Julie’s front-yard raised beds are neat and tidy — no weeds or stray plants.
Now, take a breath, and check out what the Oak Park City Planner has to say about all of this. He cited Julie based on a code that says that front yards must have “suitable live plant material.” His contention is that while chemical/water-sucking grass is suitable, productive vegetable plants are not. In this must-see short video news report, City Planner Kevin Rulkowski equates “suitable” with “common” and says, “…if you look in any other community, what’s ‘common’ to a front yard is a nice grassy yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers.”
In this news article, Mr. Rulkowski is quoted as saying that “a tomato vine on a tomato cage is just not attractive… It’s not the first impression people often put in front of their home… or want to see in their neighborhood.” And, in what is my personal least-favorite comment, he also says “I don’t know of any community where I have seen a full garden in the front yard. In planning and zoning, we try to put things in appropriate places.”
Really, Mr. Rulkowski? Full front-yard vegetable gardens aren’t embraced by ANY other community? What about Seattle, Portland, Denver, and countless other communities across the country?
This story has really got people fired up. It touches on so many different things — individual property rights, our society’s incessant need to make things conform to what’s dictated as “normal,” our right/ability to have some control over our personal food supply, why we’ve labeled food production as “dirty” and “inappropriate” for cities, the inherent unsustainability of the status quo, and — of course — busybody neighbors run amok and causing problems for those who aren’t doing any harm.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
There is a Facebook page (which has grown to 14,000 members in just a couple of weeks) about the situation, and Julie Bass is keeping a blog called “Oak Park Hates Veggies.” If you’d like, you can make a donation to the Bass’ legal fund. There is also an online petition, which has over 15,000 signatures at this writing. The Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) Facebook page recently coordinated a mass letter writing campaign.
Of all the possible angles to take when standing up for Julie’s right to grow vegetables, it’s Mr. Rulkowski’s (extraordinarily false) claim that no other communities allow full front-yard vegetables gardens that really sticks in my craw. If you’re going to be in the position of enforcing laws and potentially trampling on other people’s rights, you really should have your facts straight.
Of course, if you read Mr. Rulkowski’s quote carefully, you’ll see that he says that he “doesn’t know” of any communities that allow front-yard gardens. So, let’s educate the man.
I would like to ask everyone who cares about this issue to send a photo (or photos) of urban/suburban front-yard vegetable gardens to Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski, along with the other folks listed below. It can be your own front-yard garden, ones in your neighborhood, or even photos you find on the internet. The point is to debunk the claim that what Julie is doing is somehow abnormal and completely unsupported in other communities.
Please put “Photo of Front Yard Veggie Garden” in the subject line of your email, and send to:
City Planner Kevin Rulkowski: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Gerald Naftaly: email@example.com
City Councilperson Angela Diggs Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org
City Councilperson Paul Levine: email@example.com
City Councilperson Emile Duplessis: firstname.lastname@example.org
To make it easy, you can just copy and paste the following into the “To” field of your email:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Below are the photos I’m going to send them. And, just for good measure, I’m going to mention that Heirloom Gardens received a Denver Mayor’s Design Award in 2010. The Mayor’s Design Awards were established to “celebrate those who have made design excellence a priority in their communities.” Heirloom Gardens received the Mayor’s Design Award in part for — you guessed it — creating front-yard gardens in our northwest Denver neighborhood.