Gem of the Week: Jail Time for Gardening?

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 6:41 PM EDT

I couldn't believe the headline when I read it, but it's true: some health-conscious lady in Oak Park, Michigan, is facing a possible 93 days in jail for planting an organic garden in her front yard. FOX 2 TV out of Detroit talked to a city planner who said the woman, Julie Bass, was being cited for violating a city code that requires residents to have only "suitable, live, plant material" in their front yards. According to the planner, that means something "common" like a grassy lawn and maybe some trees or flowers. Bass contends that not only is her front-yard garden suitable, it's practical. "The price of organic food is kind of through the roof," Bass said, which is why she's started growing her own produce. Plus, neighborhood kids have taken an interest in her project and love to help out.

So far, it looks like both the city and Ms. Bass are sticking to their guns. The next pretrial hearing is at the end of July. Sadly, this is not the first nor last time cities have spent money paying prosecutors to go after would-be green thumbs. In Oakland, Mother Jones contributor Novella Carpenter got into some hot water after the city got wind that she was growing food and raising livestock in a commercially zoned lot. Originally the city wanted to charge her $2500 to grow swiss chard, plus $5000 for non-compliance with current guidelines. But after some wrangling, Carpenter paid $2,800 for a conditional uses permit. "Holy shit, that's a lot of money to grow a garden and keep a few ducks," she wrote in her blog.

It seems strange that cities would encourage people to keep water-guzzling, useless lawns, but discourage them from growing healthy foods. Encouraging people to be conscious of what they eat, plus the exercise provided by gardening, could do double-duty by slimming citizen's bottoms while bettering their bottom lines.