Growing vegetables can be a one way ticket to jail

Do not pass go or collect $200, either.

Once upon a time, the federal government encouraged people to grown their own food. Victory gardens, they were called. During the First and Second World Wars, citizens were encouraged to raise their own produce, and I imagine more than a few of those gardens also included chickens. When so much effort was going into fighting the wars and people overseas, victory gardens helped to ensure that people at home would not go hungry. It was downright patriotic to have a garden at your home.


World War I victory garden poster, via Wikipedia.

A few years ago the idea of these gardens rememgered because of the recession and rising food prices. While there is a cost to start such a garden (unless you borrow gardening tools, salvage wood, and get seeds from your neighbors), a good garden should easily recoup the costs. Both in savings for food you do not have to purchase with money, and for the health benefits of eating these items in their season, freshly picked.

But in Oak Park, Michigan, a woman is facing jail time for having a vegetable garden in her front yard.

A woman named Julie Bass decided to put a vegetable garden in her front yard, after the lawn was torn up to replace a sewer line. While most of her neighbors did (and do) not have a problem with this garden, the city of Oak Park has decided that such a garden in the front yard is not “suitable”.

In this case, suitable means common. And in the eyes of the city, common is apparently an expanse of grass, perhaps with some decorative bushes and flowers.

I don’t live in Oak Park, so I can’t comment on what yards there usually look like. But I do live in a residential area, where mostly one sees grass. I find this boring. Or, in the case of one house on my walking commute where the owners seldom mow or do any sort of maintenance on their property, depressing and ugly. I would much rather see more of those yards turning into gardens so the residents can feed themselves. Taking steps to remove themselves from the currently very centralized food system, full of just a few foods in only a few varieties, seldom picked when fresh or in season.

The update that Julie posted over the weekend includes some further interesting commentaries on what qualifies as a suitable plant. Let me throw in my vote for saving I find food-bearing plants to be quite beautiful. Honestly, to me some weeds even qualify, because they can be foraged for food and medicine.

But a woman who tries to do this for her own family gets hit with a misdemeanor and the possibility of serving up to 93 days in jail. Something doesn’t seem right here.

There is a petition to support Julie’s cause, and when I signed it on Sunday it had already surpassed its goal of 10,000 signatures by a significant margin.

I’ll be following this case as it develops, and hope that food sovereignty wins out. Maybe this will bring about some changes in how people perceive growing of food on a small scale. I technically cannot grow anything food-wise where I live, because I live in a condo and it’s against the rules. But I do have a few small boxes on the deck with some plants in them. Don’t let anyone know, alright?


Don’t let your neighbors see your contraband!

UPDATE: There have been some news reports claiming the charges have been dropped. This isn’t quite the case. The charges around the garden have been dismissed, which is not the same as dropped, and other charges have been filed about dogs the family keeps. From reading her blog, it’s clear Julie is still worried and unsure if the issues have truly been resolved. I’m still keeping watch.

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I’m sharing this post at Traditional Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, and Monday Mania.

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5 responses to “Growing vegetables can be a one way ticket to jail

  1. So…… you have a garden on your lawn………really!? This town is wasting valuable resourses, time, money etc etc etc for this? What country are we living in? Sorry for your troubles……hope you are able to find the silver lining. Best to you and your family……not to mention to path of this country.

  2. thank you for this nice article! all the best- julie bass

  3. Pingback: What has been and what may come: most popular posts of 2011 | I Believe In Butter

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