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Kitchen Gardener from Michigan Faces Legal Action for Frontyard Garden

Jul 05, 2011

Julie Bass of Oak Park Michigan had her frontlawn destroyed as a result of a broken sewer line. Rather than replant her lawn with grass, she decided to put in raised bed gardens for growing vegetables instead.  She checked first with city officials and the city ordinances did not clearly prohibit it.  The code states that lawns shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other “suitable” live plant material.  Julie decided that in our current age of economic and climate  instability, one could make a good case for vegetables being suitable.  It turns out that some of her neighbors and city officials don’t agree. They have ticketed her and ordered her to remove the vegetables or face more serious penalties. 

As a frontyard grower myself, this story doesn’t have me seeing green as the reporter puts it but red.  Oak Park is apparently cash-strapped at the moment and seeking to make savings in its budget wherever it can. Shouldn’t Oak Park residents be able to take similar measures by growing their own food where the sun shines the strongest? 

Please show your solidarity by checking out Julie’s blog. And if you want to take your activism one step beyond, you can write an email (a polite one!) to Oak Park's Technical & Planning Director, Kevin Rulkowski, at to let him know that the dictionary definition of suitable as meaning "common" is considered obsolete by Merriam-Webster.  A more modern definition is "adapted to a use or purpose" which vegetables clearly are if the "purpose" is producing food.  What we really need is to redefine the purpose of the American lawn in a more modern way which is precisely what Julie Bass is trying to do. 


Thanks for this news KGI. For those who are have a minute & inclination to write an email, I suggest you contact more people than just Mr. Rulkowski. Here is the site: and email addresses for the city council & managers:,,,,,,, This is a great opportunity for the village to explore what 'suitable' means and looks like... I hope they embrace a healthy future instead of being smothered by semantics.
Done! And to other members in the community who may wish to modify a simple letter and send their own, consider copying and pasting the following: "I am saddened and dismayed to hear that Oak Park officials would waste precious government resources to ticket Julie Bass and take her to court over her front yard kitchen garden. Her raised beds are tidy, and vegetables and edibles flowers and herbs are beautiful additions to any garden or front yard treatment. In addition, Julie's attention to her family's nutritional and financial needs should be applauded, not condemned. Please reconsider your outdated and obsolete definition of "suitable" treatments of the front yard. Our American cities would be more beautiful, more functional, and more precious if each and every household installed a kitchen garden as Julie has."
Hi Heather--great idea to share letters. Here's mine, which I sent with the subject 'In Defense of Julie Bass':::::(gosh I wish we could do line breaks in the comments here!)::::::::::::::::Dear Oak Park Board Trustees (and Clerk), ///////////////I'm writing to you about your treatment of Julie Bass who faces unreasonable threats from Oak Park, according to the news report here: I implore you to reconsider your harassment of her. I even venture to suggest that you honor her efforts. I find the penalties unconstitutional and at odds with your regional values of supporting healthy community and civic engagement. As a gardener, as a future mother, as an eater, as a linguist, and as a human, I find Mr. Rulkowski's perspective about this situation flawed and disheartening in a few ways. /////////////// On logical grounds, his argument about 'suitability' is unstable as it relies on semantics and etymology. The intent of your ordinances is to maintain a peaceful and healthy city, right? Let's interpret the words to achieve this objective. There are so many ways that Julie's efforts can be considered 'suitable' if you, as trustees of this village, recognize the value in her simple, exemplary actions. (For example, if Julie's neighbors turn their lawns into food, then her garden would be suitable/common.) Words mean something because of their context, and you have the power to encourage and allow a context where health and sustainability are suitable. /////////////// On ethical grounds, his reaction demonstrates a tragic narrow mindedness. If you are parents, then you can probably relate to her desire to offer her children healthy vegetables, and the opportunity to learn how this bounty 'works.' The power of small towns like yours (and like the one I am from) is that the scale of government allows for compassion. I don't sense this in the clip of Mr. Rulkowski (although I am confident that it exists). I am curious to know why he feels he has to get caught up in the red tape, instead of looking at what this really means: a refreshed community, more pollinators, delicious meals, less strain on the health care system, etc. /////////////// I am not sure what the relationship is between the village board and the Technical & Planning department. Whatever it is, I am confident that there is some way that you, with the trust of the public, can support exciting growth in Oak Park. This is an opportunity for your village to join the ranks of other thriving, innovative places in this country. /////////////// I bet Julie would serve you a dinner, too! That is my dream. I look forward to hearing from you! /////////////// Thanks for listening, and bon appetit,
Here is the e mail I sent to support the Bass family Tremendous opportunity for Oak Park Mr. Krulkowsk and colleagues of Oak Park local government: With the current concerns about the source of our food, the emphasis on healthy eating of fruits and vegetables, and every family's need to save money in this challenging economic time, I think you should be praising Julie Bass of Oak Park for her resourcefulness. If it is acceptable for the President and family to grow vegetables in the White House garden - why not the Bass family? . Gardens producing healthy food have be lauded in urban areas around the country for bringing pride to the communities and providing food security for many people. Please see this research and resource. Oak Park has an great opportunity in front of you to be proactive and take a lead in the "grow your own food" movement by encouraging residents to become self reliant I hope you will take advantage and show that your community is forward thinking and caring. Please drop the legal action and allocate a small amount of the funds saved to starting a community garden resource In Oak Park. Thanks for your consideration
Thanks for posting this sensible garden support, Roger ... the masses of front-yard-garden precedent around the country could also help. Officials in this case need not feel that they are called upon to invent & permit the wheel ... Supporters of front yard gardening could help "move the earth" by sending Oak Parks Technical & Planning Director news, photos & ordinance-documentation for their cities that do permit & encourage front yard gardening -with contact information for progressive planners who are experienced with front-yard gardens. Here in our community - which is resort/small-town, with 30 years of diligent planning & zoning - we have many beautiful examples of front yard gardening - integrated into an overall landscaping plan. I will put together a little email package with our information for now & future use in cases like this - back tomorrow afternoon. Right now I am helping an old friend with a front-yard kitchen garden installation! We have before photos & during photos. The house looked presentable before & already looks nicer. The work in progress is tidy. By August, new garden growth will be very pretty. Next year the overall effect will be outstanding! :-) Neighbors have stopped by to talk gardens, point out their vegetable-planted containers & describe upcoming garden ideas ...
Hoping the tides will turn here, but some heels are deeply dug in. This response was delivered to my inbox a few minutes ago from an Oak Park councilman: "While you are entitled to your opinion, several of the neighbors on that block disagree with you. Two mentioned that it looks like a New Orleans cemetery. I enjoy gardening as much as the next person, but there is a place for everything. Thanks for your input."
Yep, word for word...and the email I sent was not, word for word, the email that you sent Heather! I would have liked a more thoughtful response. In fact, I didn't even mention ANYTHING about aesthetics!!! I'll definitely respond, but tomorrow. I am making some garden fresh soup :)
Here is the e-mail I sent him. Dear Mr. Rulkowski, Hello, I mean no disrespect to you or your agency. But I want to express my disappointment with your code enforcement decisions concerning Julie Bass. Maybe you are unaware that the dictionary definition of suitable as meaning "common" is considered obsolete by Merriam-Webster. A more modern definition is "adapted to a use or purpose" which vegetables clearly are if the "purpose" is producing food. What we really need is to redefine the purpose of the American lawn in a more modern way which is precisely what Julie Bass is trying to do. I understand your city is having budget problems and cutting back to a 4 day work week instead of 5. And surely you are aware much of America is struggling financially, so maybe for Julie Bass to provide her family with fresh vegetables is her way of dealing with budget problems. Or maybe she is doing what all of America needs to do in curbing her addiction to oil. Are you aware the average supermarket item travels 1,400 miles from production to table. And the average waste in the grocery industry is 35%. Are your landfills filling up quicker than you would like? Julie Bass is not contributing to that waste, and pollution from transportation of consumer packaged goods. Or maybe she is trying to protect her family from the insectides and pesticides that is put on the industrial agricultural products. For the love of God and Country, she is growing food. Please reconsider your position, Lisa Anthony
During WWII Victory gardens were lauded by government. Julie's right to self determination and self sufficiency is preempted by legalism and a lack of sense for healthy priorities by other community members. However this is not an isolated incident, but seemingly a trend. Another recent example of bureaucratic meddling here --"British Columbia Man Faces Six Months in Jail for Growing Food" .Some state laws say illegal to collect rainwater: .And while at it, if you take any sort of health supplements at all -- are you aware the FDA is pushing for huge regulatory controls of all US companies making natural, organic supplements, that could so tie them up, they could be forced out of business? And at the same time, pharmaceutical produced synthetic vitamins are exempt from such regulation.More info here: Internet Radio Show -- Health Ranger to host Alex Jones show Thursday 7/14Tune in to at 11am CT (9am PT/12 noon New York time) as Mike Adams Health Ranger hosts the Alex Jones show with breaking news about health freedom. First up is Julie Bass who is facing 90 days of jail time for her "crime" of planting a vegetable garden in her own front yard; we'll get the latest update on her situation dealing with the bureaucrats in Oak Park, Michigan.In another segment, GMO expert Jeffrey Smith has an update on the latest breaking news with the USDA and GMOs. There has been a disturbing new decision rendered by the USDA that may mean all GMOs will no longer be regulated.Mike is joined by health freedom attorney Jonathan Emord, author of The Rise of Tyranny, who will help interpret the FDA's latest efforts to outlaw virtually all nutritional supplements formulated after 1994. Jonathan Emord is best known as the only U.S. attorney to have defeated the FDA seven times.
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