Gardening could land a Michigan woman in jail.
Julie Bass was charged with a misdemeanor for the raised beds in her front yard in the city of Oak Park, reported Alexis Wiley of FOX 2 in Detroit. If she loses her case, she could be sentenced to 93 days in jail.
“We thought it’d be really cool to do it so the neighbors could see. The kids love it. The kids from the neighborhood all come and help,” Bass said in an interview with Wiley.
“I have a bunch of little children, and we take walks to come by and see everything growing. I think it’s a very wonderful thing for our neighborhood,” said neighbor Devorah Gold in an interview with Wiley.
Many communities encourage urban gardening. First lady Michelle Obama encourages gardening as a way to provide cheap, healthy food to city dwellers in her Let’s Move campaign. There’s even a garden on the White House lawn.
So, why is Oak Park cracking down on Bass’ basil, cabbage, carrots and cucumbers?
“That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” said Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski in Wiley’s article.
Rulkowski stood by his interpretation of the rules, stating that the city code mandates that a front yard have suitable, live plant material.
“If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster’s dictionary, it will say common. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what’s common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers,” Rulkowski said.
Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t actually define suitable as “common.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines suitable as:
1: obsolete : similar, matching
2: a.) adapted to a use or purpose
b.) satisfying propriety : proper
c.) able, qualified
Most people do not have gardens in their front yards. Hence Bass’ garden is not similar and does not match those of her neighbor’s.
As for Bass’ definition of her front-yard garden:
“It’s definitely live. It’s definitely plant. It’s definitely material. We think it’s suitable,” she said.
The garden is adapted to the use and purpose of providing food, so according to Webster’s dictionary, it’s suitable — especially compared with a lawn, which doesn’t do much for you, unless you have sheep to feed.
“Why do something that’s decorative and useless?” said Bass, referring to flowers, in an interview with the Associated Press. “Vegetables are good for kids, and growing food is a real process.”
One of Bass and her husband Jason’s rationales for putting in the garden was to grow food and save some money on their grocery bill.
“The price of organic food is kind of through the roof,” said Bass.
But the city of Oak Park seems determined to spend taxpayer dollars prosecuting Bass.
“They don’t have (anything) else to do (if) they’re going to take her to court for a garden,” said neighbor Ora Goodwin.
“I think it’s sad that the city of Oak Park that’s already strapped for cash is paying a lot of money to have a prosecutor bothering us,” said Bass.
Bass is determined to stand firm in her defense of her front-yard farm.
“I could sell out and save my own self and just not have them bother me anymore, but then there’s no telling what they’re going to harass the next person about,” said Bass.
Oak Park Mayor Gerald Naftaly told the Associated Press that the city did not want to put Bass behind bars and would consider changing the ordinance if it is what the people want.
As Bass stands against city hall, here is a definition from Webster’s that she may find suitable:
1: a.) a body of non-elective government officials
b.) an administrative policy-making group
2: government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
3: a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation
IMAGE 1: Julie Bass created this vegetable garden in front of her Oak Park home. (Credit: WJBK, myFOXDetroit.com)
IMAGE 2: First lady Michelle Obama works with kids from Washington’s Bancroft Elementary School to break ground for a White House garden. (Credit: whitehouse.gov)
IMAGE 3: The Bass’ home in Oak Park, Mich. (Credit: Radley Balko, The Instigator)