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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.

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.

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