Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How dare they grow veggies!

These stories pop up in the news every so often.  Some scofflaw homeowner decides that he/she should be able to grow what they want on their own property and the keepers of conformity say, "No, you can't!"  It's happened again.  This time in Michigan.

In Oak Park, Michigan, the Bass family's front lawn got torn up when some sewer work had to be done.  After the necessary repairs were completed, the Basses decided that, rather than replacing the grass, they would put in some raised beds and grow vegetables.  They consequently installed five large planter boxes in their small front yard, filled them with garden soil and planted tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other vegetables.

 Here's the Bass front yard with its five raised beds.

The city code of Oak Park says that yards should be planted with "suitable live plant" material.  The Basses thought that vegetables met the definition of suitable.  Apparently, at least one neighbor disagreed and contacted the city.  Soon the enforcers came out and wrote the Basses a ticket for using inappropriate plants in their front yard.  The ticket is for a misdemeanor offense which carries a punishment of up to 93 days in jail.

In the picture of the Bass property that was posted online, their front yard looks neat and well-kept.  It is really hard for me to see how anyone could object to it, but the city's Director of Planning and Technology says that the code's "suitable" plants mean plants that are "common" to the area and that includes "grass, trees, bushes, and flowers."  Not vegetables.

Now, I'm certainly not a lawyer, but it seems to me that a code that provides for "suitable" plants is plenty broad enough to include vegetables.  What could be more suitable than a family using their own property to grow food for their own consumption?  I understand HOAs and cities wanting to uphold standards, but why should standards mean conformity and monotony?  Shouldn't there be space allowed for individual taste and freedom of choice as long as things are kept neat and are within public health codes? 

The Basses vow to fight the city's citation.  More power to them, I say!


  1. sourced from google dictionary,

    suit·a·ble Adjective /ˈso͞otəbəl/

    adjective: fit, appropriate, proper, fitting, convenient, becoming, opportune, right, apt, apposite, seemly, adequate, meet, due, expedient, applicable
    Right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation

    these toys are not suitable for children under five

    All the best fighting this craziness

  2. You've made my point, Anonymous. What is not "suitable" about vegetables?

  3. Ridiculous! Lawns are horticultural deserts in terms of habitat, polluters in terms of chemicals and energy required for maintenance, and water-hogs that deplete a precious natural resource. We should all be so green as the Bass family.

  4. Amen, Kathleen! You've said all that needs to be said - and very well, too.

  5. the telephone number to the city of oak park, mi. mayor and city council is 248 691 7410, the mayor's name is gerald naftaly, mayor pro-tem is michael seligson, the council persons are angela jackson, paul levine and emile duplessis, and the fax number is 248 691 7171. call or fax them about your concerns that someone could actually spend up to 93 days in jail for growing vegetables in their front yard.

  6. Apparently all the feedback Oak Park has gotten has been effective, Anonymous. Another reader just informed me that the city has dropped the charges. (I haven't confirmed that but I have no reason to doubt it.)