Give Now

Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Woman Faces 93 Days In Jail For Planting A Garden

A tidy garden of five raised beds nestled around a front path has created a viral controversy that has enraged food activists from all over the country.

Julie Bass' Oak Park Garden

Photo: Julie Bass (Oak Park Hates Veggies)

Is planting this garden a crime worthy of over three months in jail? The town of Oak Park, Michigan thinks so.

Gardening Against The Law

After her front lawn was torn up for sewer repairs, Julie Bass, a mother of six from Oak Park Michigan, decided to plant a garden in her front yard instead of reseeding grass. In the beds, she planted vegetables like squash, corn, and tomatoes along with some flowers.

Not everyone was excited about Bass’ garden, though. Responding to a complaint, the city of Oak Park gave Bass a warning to remove her garden to comply with city rules. When she didn’t, they ticketed her and charged her with a misdemeanor for which she could be sentenced to 93 days in jail. Her trail is set for July 26, 2011.

Jumping Through The Hoops

“We became interested in putting garden beds with vegetables, so I called the city to find out if it was permitted,” she writes on her blog.

After speaking to the person in charge of zoning, we were told that we probably couldn’t do a garden because nobody had ever asked about it before. since that is obviously not proof that it can’t be done, i asked the zoning person to please check on it for me. in our next call, he told me that he had been able to find out that we cannot put a fence around our front yard (????) but he had been unable to find anything about vegetable gardens in the front yard. the only thing he could find said that the city does allow decorative plantings.

so, we had someone professionally make the garden beds so they would look nice. we planted grass on the front part of the yard, and put pathways between the garden boxes. we bought a pretty bench swing, and got pretty trellises for the tomatoes and the peas. we put garden paving stones out to make it nicer. we planted everything cleanly, in nice rows, with no huge plants that would hang over or look unkept. we thought we did pretty much everything in out power to comply with the city’s allowance of decorative plantings.

Legal Wording

Information on the City of Oak Park’s website may shed some light on this case.

Oak Parks says that “all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material.”

The Oak Park’s Code of Ordinances states that for there is an exception (section 18-284) that regulates grass and noxious weeds. “Exempted from the provisions of this article, inclusive, are flower gardens, plots of shrubbery, vegetable gardens and small grain plots. An exemption under the terms of this section cannot be claimed unless the land has been cultivated and cared for in a manner appropriate to such exempt categories.”

Viral Vegetables

The case has united an unusual group of people. Through blogs and social media sites, food and gardening groups are joined by urban gardeners, environmental activists, and even political groups that oppose big government policies. Even Bass’ Facebook page, Oak Park Hates Veggies, has 26,210 people following it.

On her blog, Bass thanks “the huge outpouring” of people standing up for her and her garden. She does ask, though, that if you are following and promoting her story online and in the media, that you stick to the facts and do not harass the city officials. She writes “we want the city to back off and do the right thing, but just like i don’t want them bullying us, i don’t want our friends and allies bullying them.”

If The First Lady Can Do It…

Many critics of Oak Park’s ruling have pointed to the White House Garden as a positive example of healthy living and self-sustainability. They argue that if a garden can exist on the lawn of the White House, then gardens should be encouraged on citizen’s lawns throughout the country.

Read More:

  • Oak Park battles city over vegetable gardens in their front yard (WXYZ Action News)
  • Oak Park Hates Veggies (Julie Bass)
  • Michigan Woman Faces 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Vegetable Garden (Treehugger)

UPDATE:

Thanks to the viral exposure the news of Julie Bass and her illegal vegetable garden has received over the past week, the city of Oak Park has dropped the charges against her. According to Bass’s lawyer Solomon Radner, “Based on the games the city has been playing, I would not put it past them to drop the charges just to get the media off their back.”

Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

View all posts by this author »

  • Mssm01

    Has anyone considered that we don’t need issues like this, instead we need new JOBS. Also, that having the garden on the front causes squirrels and other animals trouble.  They come to eat food in the front risking their lives. cars come by as they try to pilfer veggies. Who needs rodents coming to the front and who needs tomatoes strewn all over the sidewalk. Who needs to see her chasing off animals who feel they have a right to eat her vegetables?

    The city planner is only doing his job in accordance to the policy or rules set by the city of oak park.  Why is he being made to be a terrible  person for following beautification standards set by the City of Oak Park. Consider how someone deviates from the Norm, and now ruins this mans career and life  for a vegetable garden. Everyone knows that this is out of the norm, and wouldnt want it next to their home .  Well most of us can be truthful about that. Yet many are playing the Emperors new Clothes tactic now.  Why?  Why is everyone so willing to destroy that man’s career to save a garden on the front lawn?  is it that important to be different?  is it that important for someone to get attention to write a book one day and get rich off of ruining a man and his family’s life.  What if she stops taking care of the garden and rotten tomatoes , etc. gets all out into the street or sidewalk?  what if it causes problems when homeless people and hungry animals start taking from it because it is highly accessible?  why should she want to  have vegstables rott in the front yard possibly smelling up the front yard.  Ask yourself, does she like her neighbors?  Corn , cucumbers , cabbage all there for people to come by and steal at will. In her back yard , no one is likely to come back there to pick food.  In her back yard if a squirrel steals it won’t run into the street and get killed .  In her back yard if it spoils no one has to walk by and see it on the way to school.   Stop playing the games to have something to arguing about with the politicians and lawmakers.  We have enough to deal with than a woman wanting to be different and trying to create issues for a stand.  It’s not like selling lemonade, she wants to start a protesting situation for attention and fame.  some people barbeque in the front yard too.  I guess we will have to hear them complain too.  why not put a swimming pool on the front lawn too.  Is that ok too.  Or why not build a storage or utility house on your front lawn too. We can all come up with something to later protest and fight the Policy’s which are in place .  At least we can get fame and maybe fortune.  Deviation from the Norm seems to be the thing for today. Why can’t we just stop making noise and come up with more jobs ?

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Earth Eats:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Search Earth Eats

Earth Eats on Twitter

Earth Eats on Flickr

Harvest Public Media