Front yard garden may earn Michigan woman jail time

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one way that growing plants will get you arrested… but Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan, doesn’t have any illegal substances growing in her front yard. The raised beds and vegetable plants she does have, however, have earned her a misdemeanor citation from the city… and a potential punishment of 93 days in jail!

That’s right: this woman is being prosecuted for gardening. According to Detroit’s WXYZ, Julie decided to put an organic garden in the front yard after it was torn up from some sewer work. As she explains in the video above, organics are expensive, so growing her own made sense. But at least one neighbor, and the city, didn’t see it that way: they believe the garden violates a clause in the city code calling for “suitable live plant material” in front yards… and apparently vegetable plants aren’t “suitable.” This disagreement over the meaning of the word has escalated into a legal battle, and now Julie faces a jury trial… and the potential of three months in the slammer for growing basil, peppers, and cucumbers.

As you might imagine, this one’s caught on in the green blogosphere: Treehugger, Grist, and others have already weighed in. Julie has started her own blog, and she’s finding a lot of support online: over 160 people so far have commented on her About page, and her official “Oak Park Hates Vegetables” Facebook page has over 14,000 supporters. One fan has even written a poem about her plight.

Needless to say, I’m dumbfounded not only by the initial citation, but also by the city’s decision to move forward on prosecuting this. As a former English professor, I find the Oak Park Planning and Technology Director Kevin Rulkowski’s attempt to define “suitable” as “common” overly simplistic (and reminiscent of the arguments I used to find in freshmen essays). But, most of all, I’m a bit saddened by the lack of imagination displayed here… when did vegetables become something you needed to keep out of sight?

Want to help? Contact Rulkowski, donate to Julie’s legal defense fund,  and like the Facebook page… and let others know about this ridiculous example of local government overreach.


Image credit: RaeA at Flickr under a Creative Commons license