okay, it is now january of 2013, but i am going to actually update this section for those of you who are new to the blog, but who are coming here to actually get a synopsis of why it started. i used to have a very tongue-in-cheek blurb here, since most of the people who followed the blog had been here from the beginning, and i have lots and lots of posts detailing the entire saga of the famous/infamous front yard garden.
but for those of you who want a condensed version, i will try my best to give you a quickie:
in the spring of 2011 i was given a misdemeanor citation from the city of oak park, michigan for planting a raised bed vegetable garden in my front yard.
the yard had been dug up entirely in order to replace a ruptured sewer pipe (that had flooded my basement, and which was caused by a city-owned tree). we were looking to do something with the mountain of dirt that was left behind, and after pricing out sod to replace the lawn (because, of course we would replace the lawn- what other choice was there?), we decided to check into some other options. as i looked through more and more gardening books in the library to get landscaping ideas, i kept coming back to the idea of a vegetable garden. not only would it be a much more productive use of the space than a lawn, but i thought it would be an entirely cool way to teach my kids (as well as other people in the neighborhood) about growing food. i floated the idea with some friends on the block and called the city planning office to see if there were any zoning problems with a veggie garden in the front yard.
during the first phone call i spent a long time very carefully explaining what a raised bed vegetable garden was. although the city planner seemed clearly baffled by the idea, he offered the helpful suggestion that, since nobody had ever asked him about it before, it probably wasn’t something i could do. i told him that wasn’t really an answer to my question, and asked if he could look into it for me. he said he would, and i told him i would check back with him.
i called him back, as arranged, and he informed me that he had found an answer: i was not allowed to make a fence around the front of my property. i told him that wasn’t my question, but he told me he thought that might be my next question, so he went ahead and looked it up. he hadn’t been able to find anything at all about vegetables in the front yard, or vegetable gardens in the font yard, but he did know that decorative plantings were allowed… we decided that if he came across anything else he would let me know, and we left it at that.
i went ahead and made arrangements with a local carpenter to make me some “decorative” raised beds, found a source for high quality compost, and shopped for seeds and seedlings. we had everything delivered and set everything up. it was like a small party in the neighborhood the day we started shoveling soil into the raised beds, with tons of kids coming over to help and lots of adults standing by to see what all the fuss was about. we chatted about the garden and discussed all of the things we hoped to eat together in the coming summer…
one day while i was out at the library my daughter called me pretty shaken up. the code enforcement officer had come by asking to see me. he left his name and number and said i should call as soon as i could. i did, and we had a very nice phone call wherein he asked me very politely to move the garden out of the front. i asked him what would happen next if i didn’t and he told me the city would take me to court over it. i’ll admit i didn’t fully believe that the city cared that much about a few vegetables, but he told me that there was a reason for the saying that, “you can’t fight city hall”, and he said, “you know the song, ‘i fought the law and the law won’? they say that for a reason.” he told me that the city loved when people fought stuff, because it gave them more money in fines. that was sure food for thought, but i really thought i was in the right. besides, my husband informed me in no uncertain terms that he was not shoveling any more dirt. the code enforcer was a really nice guy, and i told him not to take it personally if i didn’t move the garden.
the plants started to grow, and we didn’t hear anything else from the city. everything was humming along until a few weeks later when i received a ticket in the mail citing me for a civil misdemeanor, violating a code that stated, “all unpaved portions of the site must be paved with grass, shrubs, or other suitable live plant material”. underneath was written in “no vegitibles (sic) allowed in front yard”. since the code they cited didn’t actually say anything at all about not having vegetables in the front yard, i was left thinking that they took a pretty broad and unwarranted interpretation of that code, and that i had no reason to worry. after all, i wasn’t doing anything wrong. but the ticket also had a court date on it, so i started a blog asking for friends to pass it on, trying to find other people who may have had a similar fight with their own cities over similar issues.
a friend of a friend, who is an attorney, agreed to make a phone call to the local prosecutor for us. he assumed that the city was just trying to appease someone who had made a complaint and that there was really no way that they cared about a neat and well-maintained garden in someone’s front yard. when the attorney was told that the city intended to “take this all the way” and indeed prosecute me with a criminal misdemeanor- a crime carrying a penalty of a 93 day jail sentence- i posted that on my blog and things went viral.
local media caught wind of my case, and before long both national and international media did too. i did a bunch of interviews, the entire time not really believing that things were happening as they were.
i wish that at the time i was a more articulate spokesperson for the cause of front yard gardens. i wish i knew then what i know now. i learned so much about all of the issues surrounding what i was doing because people cared enough to reach out to me and to educate me, and i wish i had been able to slow down enough to learn it all then and to teach it to other people.
but it was a whirlwind of media, and then, without even telling us, the city dismissed the charges against me.
they dismissed them in a way that they could bring them again any time, and they did this because the prosecutor said he wanted more time to look into the ordinance. they tried to throw two other misdemeanor charges at me for not having current dog licenses, but i had already taken care of those, and had shown proof in court, so those were dismissed as well. we were left feeling like as soon as the media attention died away that the city would come after us again- after all, people had the impression that the charges had been dropped, since that had been the headline everywhere.
shortly after that, my husband got a really good job offer in seattle and we took it.
so, here we are.
welcome to the blog. i hope you will stay, and i hope you will continue to read.
my case was the first that i know of, but sadly it was not the last. not by far. there have been lots of others, and we are really hoping to change that. this blog isn’t strictly about that- which you’ll see if you read it- but i hope you’ll stay anyway.
if you have input, i’d love to hear it.
and i guess, that’s my story.
welcome to it.