City goes after front-yard veg gardener



The gardening blogosphere is up in arms over this story.

“They warned us at first that we had to move the vegetables from the front, that no vegetables were allowed in the front yard.". .

Whether these gardeners in Oak Park, Michigan face 93 days of jail time depends on the interpretation of "suitable landscaping", which is required by law.  The city official in charge is saying, “If you look at the dictionary, suitable means common. You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard… What's common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers.”

As bad as that sounds – defining "suitable" narrowly AND so that there can never be change – the problem started with the writing of such a vague law.  Which is now outdated altogether.

The homeowners are vowing to fight this, so stay tuned.

In a related story about front-yard criminality, xeriscaping in California is also a no-no.  Seriously?


  1. OMG! I thought MY city was bad! JAIL? I mean for real?! So now taxpayer money goes to punishing people trying to utilize THEIR property that THEY OWN instead of getting real criminals off the street. Come on, people!!

  2. The only reason I don’t have vegetables i in my front yard is that there isn’t enough light there.
    Close by, there is a house on a large corner lot with nothing but (very short) grass growing. I find it very unattractive. Can we send those people to jail, too?

  3. In the Detroit News this morning, they quote the Mr.Rulkowski as saying “I don’t know of any community where I have seen a full garden in the front yard. In planning and zoning, we try and put things in appropriate places.” Perhaps people who live in communities where front yard veggies are common should respond to him with examples.

  4. Some of the definitions I find for suitable; desirable, worthy, timely. All these are a good description this yard.

  5. I’m so glad these people are going to fight this citation (or whatever they were presented with); their yard looks lovely and well-tended. I hope they do it in a manner that educates their city administrators and lawmakers, and that they can gather neighborly support for what they are doing. Why is it that yard ordinances seem to lag behind the times?

    As for the California green lawn fetish, I have to laugh, having lived in a Californian town in the 70’s when a drought brought on the “water police” to enforce the no-lawn-watering rules put into place to conserve water. There was a lot of pride in having a brown lawn then! Kids were even taught a song that went:

    “Don’t flush the toilet every time you pee,
    Do your bit for e-col-o-gyyy!”

    Southern California communities largely exist due to increasingly-scarce water from far away being piped into their region; and the day is coming when they will be asked to pay what it really costs. We’ll see how anxious the city powers are to enforce green lawns then.

  6. There are some really dumb non-gardeners holding political offices all across the country. They want everyone’s yards to look like their yards regardless if its environmentally the correct thing to do or not.

    I would like people to gather together, make a plan and totally transform his yard other than foundation plants and lawn in a rapid makeover.
    I bet that could happen.

    It would be so worth the look on his face.

  7. “Things in their appropriate places?” Any site with good soil and enough sun is appropriate for growing food.

  8. Since I live in a city, I guess my tomato plants out front will have to go. Probably if I was growing pot instead, they would consider that common and a beautiful ‘shrub”.

  9. Wouldn’t it be great if a whole lot of other people in Oak Park planted veggies in their yards too, not only to show support but also to change the town’s definition of “common” since then vegetable gardens would be common too

  10. All I can do is shake my head at the ignorance. I certainly hope they fight the good fight. I, too, would love to see all of their neighbors put tomatoes or beans or something similar in THEIR front yards.

    And please, Michelle Obama, can you please arrange a pre-emptive pardon for these people?

  11. Thank you Susan and Garden Rant, for keeping me abreast of Other news. Bass’s yard doesn’t look wonderful, but
    #1 She is clearly not in a gated, hoity-toity development with strict rules.
    #2 you can tell it’s a very new garden as very little has had time to grow in. It is the start of a beautiful garden.
    This story feels like a backward moment in a Ray Bradbury novel or a Stephen Colbert Skit. Passing it on to everyone now…
    Wish our mainstream news would cover an occasional small, front-yard story like this one, instead of giving 90% of the news time to the Anthony Case & Sarkozy BS.

  12. If feel for the city employee responsible for enforcing the city codes which may be vague, and out of date and never enforced, but still the law. And you have a person coming in waving the code book and saying enforce this law and screaming to your boss and the mayor and every other elected official. And I can guarantee there is more to this story than an “ugly” lawn. For example, they always park their car in front of my house, or their cat/dog poops in my yard. Their kid made the team and mine didn’t, etc. etc.

  13. And another thing!
    I think we should make a collage or slideshow of all the front-yard vegetable gardens and send to the Oak Park zoning board. I have ample examples in New Orleans.
    That is all.

  14. I’m usually the person who says “they should have read the ordinances first.” BUT, in this case, the ordinance is poorly written. I think the homeowners stand a good chance of having the courts rule in their favor.

    “You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard…” It doesn’t look like it takes up the whole front yard to me. I see newly seeded grass that should be looking good in a month or two. The veggies only take up about 1/2 to 2/3s of the yard. Besides, the veggies are nice and orderly.

    What a waste of city time and resources. Doesn’t Oak Park have bigger problems to deal with?

  15. This is the same kind of thinking that just went into a new ordinance around here banning beekeeping. Hello? Didn’t you people get the memo that home veggie gardens are more important now than ever? And didn’t you hear about the suburb that set up community hives? Eisenhower ain’t President anymore.

  16. We are front yard container gardeners and LOVING it. Every morning when I water, I get a dog walker or jogger commenting how pretty it looks! And we have our mint in hanging baskets, hanging from the trees nearest the curb – our house smells like a pack of Winterfresh as you walk by. No shame here.

    Watching these stories with interest, as next year’s plan to install several permanent raised beds reduces my front yard grass space by roughly 70 percent. I’m in a sleepy little Southern college town on an older street, it’ll be interesting to see what the neighbors say.

  17. I have 9 raised veggie beds in front of my house and 3 more along the side and have never had a single negative complaint. In fact, we’ve had more positive interactions with people from the neighborhood. Folks are highly complimentary and curious about our plans, what’s growing best and what’s giving us a good return on effort. We even get compliments on our rusted swingset trellis – much to my husband’s dismay! – which drips with pole beans and malabar spinach.

    Of course, I spend the majority of my time making sure it looks attractive and well-kept. And the one anal-retentive neighbor we were aware of got pre-empted by generosity with produce and bunny fixes (he had a pet rabbit he was very attached to, so has a soft spot for my little fertilizer factory out back), as well as the occasional cocktail on the lawn.

    He’s come around now to the point where he’s hinting he’d love to sample any extra tomatoes we might have since his, planted in the same semi-shaded back yard bed for years, aren’t doing well (go figger!). ;-}

  18. PEOPLE, they cannot do this, it is Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law. HELLO !!! EDUCATE YOURSELVES and stop being doormats. READ Title 18 USC 241 & 242, FBI definition of ‘color of law’ and Title 42, USC 1981-1985. Code, statutes & ordinances ARE ‘color of law’ they are NOT LAWS, they are NOT enforecable. YES, I have stood my ground and my county, police dept and animal control ALL backed down. They leave me alone. This is not a game, is valid and works.

  19. Unbelievable! Michigan is falling apart at the seams, and this bureaucrat can’t find anything more worthy of his time than harassing a gardener. I really think it would be wonderful if everyone on her street planted up their front yards with veggies. That moron couldn’t arrest and prosecute everybody. And I would say to Mr. Bureaucrat that when he or some other government drone starts paying Bass’s mortgage and insurance and property taxes for her, then and then only would they have the right to dictate how she plants up her front yard. Good luck to her!

  20. Does anyone have the best name and e-mail contact at the town, to write a letter of protest?

    Communities suffer from lack of funding for education and so many other worthy needs, but instead waste their money on this.


  21. RE: CA & xeriscaping – Twenty years ago my city of Roseville (just north of Sacramento) cited a neighbor for creating a “fire hazard” in their front yard, aka replacing the lawn with natives & drought-tolerant species. Thankfully that neighbor fought City Hall & won. Now the city-run water district actually runs a program that pays homeowners for every square foot of turf they replace with drought-tolerant, native, or even food-producing plants. And in Sacramento, the front-yard veggie battle has been fought … and the veggies won !

  22. “Suitable” means WHAT IS CORRECT FOR THE ECOLOGY. Period. And vegetable gardens in one’s front (or back) yard is certainly MUCH better than spewing CO2 and particulates into the air and burning fossil fuel to haul tasteless tomatoes from Florida where they were grown and harvested by people in actual slavery.

    Meanwhile, the US Government is openly growing illegal opium poppies at the nation’s arboretum. Really.

    Seriously, people, GO TO YOUR NEXT TOWNSHIP MEETING WITH A PROPOSAL TO MODIFY YOUR LOCAL ORDINANCE to include vegetable gardens and wildlife gardens, prairies, and meadows. Craft a letter explaining the benefits to your neighborhood (and the local government) -everything from less toxic runoff into streams to capturing water runoff and flood prevention – and send it to your supervisors. Include a good model ordinance from a nearby township if you can find one. I did this, and not only was our weed law amended (with no discussion whatsoever!) to include natural landscapes, but I was invited to serve on a citizens’ advisory board!

    In my part of SW PA, at least, so few people care anything about their local township that ANY intelligent, respectful action is welcomed with open arms.

  23. And make sure to give ALL of your neighbors fresh veggies from your garden. It’s very hard to complain against someone who has given you food.

  24. So I just checked my Webster’s dictionary and here’s what is listed under the synonyms for “common”: *syns: common, communal, general, joint, mutual, public adj. core meaning: belonging to, shared by, or applying to all .

    Appropriate much? Not only is “suitable” nowhere to be found, but the Webster’s dictionary uses world hunger as an example for the word “common”. In a state where 1 in 10 people rely on food banks to feed their families, I think front yard vegetable gardens should become more “common”.

    This Michigan bureaucrat needs a reality check, because the Webster’s dictionary doesn’t define him as a “caring peoples”.

  25. My apologies. Part of my quote from the dictionary was quoted in carrots and was omitted as if it were a hyperlink:

    “world hunger — a common concern of all caring peoples”

  26. This yard is very neatly organized. I’ve seen worse with grass growing over sidewalks and such that need to be edged. I think his vegetable looks perfectly fine. I commend him for his effort.

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