An Oak Park, Michigan family decides to landscape their front yard with vegetables in raised beds after a sewer line renovation; a math teacher in Memphis provides a place for a few students to gather after school and try their hands at gardening, bee keeping and making biodiesel fuel; a woman uses a veggie garden in her trailer’s yard as jumping off point for a more ecological lifestyle. That these foks were inspired to try growing a few veggies isn’t surprising. After all, thanks to well-publicized initiatives like the White House vegetable garden, home gardening for food and health is enjoying a resurgence not seen since Victory garden days.
What is surprising is the response of certain members of their communities: each of these gardeners was threatened with legal action, with one woman facing possible jail time, for plantings that were not considered “suitable.” In the end, complaints against all 3 were dropped, due in part to the negative publicity their cases garnered on the internet.
Looking at photos of the 3 yards, (to find them, follow the links given above) it is hard for me to see how they could be objectionable. They look like well tended vegetable gardens and bins, especially compared to what my gar- well, let’s not get into that. But it seems that our concept of what a front yard should look like has narrowed over the past 50 years. As Oak Park’s Planning and Technology Director Kevin Rulkowski says,
“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.”
Is it a coincidence that our concept of agriculture has become similarly narrow over the same time frame, so that farming now refers mainly to presiding over thousands of acres growing a handful of different varieties?