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If Oak Park Hates Veggies, Then They Can BITE ME!!!

by germinatrix | July 11th, 2011

Julie Bass's front yard - her baby edible garden is under ATTACK!!!

Far be it from me to be all LOUD about anything, but sometimes circumstances are such that there is no choice BUT to yell. Julie Bass from Oak Park, Michigan, is trying to grow food in her front yard. A neighbor complained, a ticket was issued. Julie did exactly what I would do – “TICKET SCHMICKET… I’m growing my food, my way!” So instead of prosecuting the REAL criminals running around the Detroit area, a local prosecutor has made it his mission to put Julie in the clink. You heard it right – she could actually  go to jail for 93 days! Say WHAT?

As many of you know, I wrote a book about this very subject. And I am shocked, but not at all surprised with what is going on. One of the couples profiled in The Edible Front Yard, Yvette Roman and Fred Davis, had a similar fight – and they won. They had to prove that their front yard was the best place to grow edibles because of the generous amount of sun it received, and then they had to show the benefit of growing organic food, and nearby examples of lawn-free front yards. Their fantastic garden is the pride of the neighborhood they live in – everyone benefits from the bounty!

one of my hellstrip beds - right between the sidewalk and the street. oak park prosecutor, would you throw the book at me, too?

Julie Bass may have thought nobody would care about her front yard food – but many people fear change. Seeing a neighbor rip out their lawn can be very unsettling for some people. They believe that our lawns link us together, and that a lawn is the only thing that looks “good”. I experienced blowback when I ripped out my lawn – people thought I was ruining a beautiful “landscape”. Thankfully, my naysayers didn’t complain (in my East LA neighborhood, the bigger problem is graffiti and drag races) and my garden had a chance to grow. My front yard is a mix of succulents, drought tolerants, and food.

Many of my public edibles are tucked in among other plants – they are in disguise. Julie Bass did something different – her food is front and center, in wooden raised beds that are clean and geometric, sitting in a yard mulched with shredded bark. It looks functional and spare, but more than anything it looks NEW! LET IT GROW, Oak Park! When Julie’s edibles grow in, they will be full and lovely and they’ll look fantastic within the boundaries of the raised beds. The empty space around the beds will make more sense because the beds will be bursting at the seams with yummy goodness. From a design standpoint, Julie Bass is breaking no rules with her planting area, not as far as I’m concerned, and I think I can say that I am a better judge of this issue than Julie’s disgruntled neighbor, or the prosecutor who is hellbent on taking this to trial.

raised beds from one of Fritz Haeg's Edible Estate gardens

People need to get over themselves – this is an idea whose time has come. The tide has turned! This is a cultural shift! People are growing food, and often the best place to do it is the front yard. If there is enough sun to grow lawn, there is enough sun to grow food. So what is a better use of our resources? Julie Bass is being SMART – she is putting her time, effort, and dollars into something that gives back to her and her family – she’s watering and caring for edibles instead of lawn! (I’d say “So sue her!” if I wasn’t afraid it might actually HAPPEN)

Part of my book is about dealing with the reality that some neighbors WILL have a problem with this, and sometimes we have to get creative and design our edible front yards so that they look just like any other garden. Using beautiful edibles in artful combinations can trick the nosier people on the block- they’ll never know that the plants they are looking at are food! Purple basils, speckled lettuces, striped eggplant, culinary sages, colorful kales … all of these can be combined in a way to create an ornamental and edible front yard. I have no doubt that if people leave Julie Bass alone and let her do her thing, her front yard garden will develop into something glorious. She wants to share this space with her neighborhood! She wants the children of her community to join in on the fun of growing food! If they just LET IT GROW, it will become an inspiration and anchor for the community – I know it. I’ve seen this happen in my own life.

these edibles are in disguise, pretending to be regular beautiful plants just in case the Oak Park prosecutor jogs by my front yard! Well you NEVER know!

So I to thank Julie Bass. She didn’t start out to do it, but she is taking one for the team. It isn’t fair that she is risking losing her freedom for 3 months – but this has galvanized a community. I am so confident that the groundswell of support she is experiencing will sway the judge in this matter. What is right is right – and this is a good fight. I am proud to lend my voice to the chorus of supporters! GROW IT JULIE!!!

XOXO Your Germinatrix!

ps – Thanks for the cool thumbnails, Derek Powazek !

22 Responses to “If Oak Park Hates Veggies, Then They Can BITE ME!!!”

  1. Grow it Julie!! Thank you for the excitingly heated blogpost!

  2. nisha chopada says:

    i want to help protest.
    Lemme know how.

  3. Nisha, you should go on the facebook page for Oak Park Hates Veggies – there are links to the petition and the email campaign. There are links on my facebook page, too – Front Yard Food. Any support you can give helps! Sign the petition and pas it on to all of your friends! here is a direct link to the petition page :

  4. Boy it’s about time we out-voice the Lawn People. I just love the front-yard gardens, flowers and veggies, that are appearing in my part of the planet. So much prettier, healthier, cheaper and more fun…Well done!

  5. expat39520 says:

    Just a tiny bit of devil’s advocacy here. Cheers to Julie for breaking a bad law, if that is indeed what she’s doing. If she simply didn’t check city ordinances before she planted, and the law prohibits this, well she must be prepared to pay for her act of defiance. Trust me. I broke more than a few in my youth…always nonviolent protest…but we did it with full knowledge of what we were doing, hence had no cause to bellyache when they hauled us in. Contrary to popular wisdom, it is not always easier to apologize than it is to get permission.

  6. Linniew, I totally agree – a beautiful front yard edible garden is glorious – unbeatable! PLUS, it nourishes us as well as looks great! I’ll bet you ANYTHING it was just one cranky neighbor who didn’t like the idea that Julie was doing something different.

    Hey Expat! You know, the law is worded in such a vague manner. It is probably done on purpose so that the powers that be can interpret it to serve their needs at the moment. The law says the plant material has to be “suitable”. I DO understand that many people wouldn’t find many edible plants unsuitable, but the statute should be specific (many of the CCRs of planned communities are very specific). I think it is unfair that Julie Bass has to go through this, but hopefully it will make other cities clarify their positions on this issue.

  7. AngryAustinite says:

    Is the City where Ms Bass lives complaining about her growing vegetables in her front yard? Is it because they think she isn’t educated enough to reach out to Americans everywhere who are doing the same thing? Or are they afraid that they may run out of contracts with the Chemical companies to keep poisoning our food? You keep on growing those veggies…I truly believe it is some kind of CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT…Don’t give up…America is behind you all the way…I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  8. Diane Kristy says:

    Thank you for standing up for Julie. We are totally on her side here in Oak Park, ILLINOIS! We love our front yard vegetable gardens and rock gardens and fruit gardens and indiginous gardens and WHATEVER. It’s fun to walk around here. You just never know what you might find!

  9. I am so sorry you are going through this. However, we went through something simular. We compromised by adding grass around the veggie pits and the city was a bunch of happy campers. It turned out my neighbors were the ones complaining and putting pressure on the city. So this is a suggestion, add grass landscape the yard so the veggie garden does not stick out like a sore thumb.

    It is a good thing to be teaching your children, to raise their food. It is a lost art.

  10. Pam Montgomery says:

    Brava, Miss Julie!
    Hang in there! With food prices skyrocketing, and companies like Monsanto trying to submarine heirloom veggie farmers….our only recourse is to grow gardens……..lots of them.
    I bought a whole box of assorted veggie seeds from Baker Creek, and had a party to pass them on to family and friends…..trying to get as many people as possible to produce their own food. I am very passionate about this…..For some this is a matter of necessity, but the truth is, so many of the veggies are sooo beautiful, who wouldn’t enjoy the many ornamental versions….
    No wonder this country is in such a mess…on one hand they try to tell people to become more self sufficient, then they shackle you for actually doing it. I think a campaign to get a new Mayor might be something worth working for. Good luck and God Bless you!

  11. expat39520 says:

    Hey, Germi! You are right, of course, about the vague language of the law. A woman I know here (actually, she bought and lives in the house where I grew up) fought the city and won the right to have a massively crazy wildflower garden across what had been the front lawn (my anal mom is no doubt twiring in her grave). It DOES look a mess in winter, and the neighbors went insane. The city even sent a backhoe over to plow it under, but Tate stood her ground, the men were reluctant to plow down a dainty lady, and with the help of a good lawyer (there are a few around) she won the right to plant as she pleases.

    I do wish Julie luck. Sorry if I offended. Maybe I spent too many years in a newsroom where we had balance beaten into our heads.

  12. Julie,
    A crime is required to be tried in the County in which the crime was committed. This is a Law and part of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If a judge is elected in one County, unless he is a Circuit Judge, in which case as per his title, he runs a circuit of courts in which he adjudicates for the State government. If however your suspect judge is a District Judge, and he is adjudicating outside of his District, the Judgement that he passes is worthless, Null, and void. This judge is not elected by the people he would be adjudicating. A direct and severe challenge to the Constitution and YOUR rights as a citizen. I believe in your case that it appears that no-one with the authority to do so has dropped anything, and the person who dropped the case does NOT possess the legal authority to do so. I personally believe that you are hoodwinked, and that your case is still legally viable, active, and on hold for dust and attention to clear. YOUR government has dropped nothing. They probably remain committed to their view and in time will exercise the Warrant to appear. You are NOT finished yet, but it looks like you have a lot of support so see it through. I hope this helps you, AND your counsel.
    Chip Webber B.A.A

  13. Julie,
    Try dumping some Baking Soda down your drain, don’t run the water. let it stand for awhile and then rinse it out. This will assure that at least your drain isn’t making the stinky mold smell. Sometimes the inside of the spigot is the culprit. A gun barrel brush, small bottle brush or the like will work, use bleach. Also, place an open container of Baking Soda under your sink, that will help also!
    Chip Webber B.A.A

  14. Gardens are beautiful. I would much rather see a beautiful raised bed garden in a front yard than grass. They are also useful. You can’t feed your family grass. Good luck Julie, I hope everything works out for you.

  15. Hahaha! For the record, I am not Julie Bass – I am Ivette Soler, aka The Germinatrix, weighing in on the Julie Bass situation! But I LOVE all of the passion and insight you are all coming up with … although I admit to being a little at a loss about the organic drain cleaner Chip Webber’s comment encourages Julie to use.
    But hey – I use the SAME recipe for drain cleaner, so right on Chip! I hope Julie’d drain somehow got the message.
    Front Yard Edible Gardens are lovely, healthy, and have a major impact on the health & well being of the entire neighborhood! They should be encouraged rather than prosecuted!
    The good news is that the charges have been dismissed, and for now, everything about Julie’s front yard seems cool and kosher. I hope she stays activist about this topic and works to change the zoning laws in her area! All the best to Julie Bass

  16. I think your first few comments including the one from me were deleted but anyway I mentioned your post on my post on the kitchen garden.

  17. You should still totally send the neighbor and prosecutor copies of your book free of charge! I’m sure the gorgeous edibles in disguise would change their minds in a jiffy.

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