Should it Be Illegal to Grow Vegetables Instead of a Lawn in Your Front Yard??

A Weed is a Plant No One Wants

Exotic Herbs or Weeds? Please click picture to be able to read sign.
Exotic Herbs or Weeds? Please click picture to be able to read sign. | Source

How Far Do Private Property Rights Go?

Julie Bass, a law-abiding woman living in Oak Park, Michigan, at the time of this writing is in trouble with the law because the mother of six decided to plant vegetables in raised beds in her front yard. The city has charged her with a misdemeanor and she could face up to 93 days in jail if she doesn't move her garden. There is a pre-trial scheduled for July 26, 2011, and if that doesn't settle the matter, Julie has requested a jury trial.

In a video, which has now been removed, it's seen that the ordnance Julie is charged with violating is ambiguous. It says nothing specific about vegetables in the front yard being legal or illegal. Enforcement hinges on the word "suitable." Even Julie's neighbors can't agree on that, so who decides?

How far do private property rights extend? Julie's yard was already torn up and the grass was gone because of sewer repairs. In my city of Paso Robles, California, we are being encouraged to get rid of our water-hogging lawns because rain is scarce here. The city is subsidizing people who will tear out their lawns and put in drought resistant landscaping or even cover their front yard with rocks or artificial turf to save water. One person put in a cactus garden. Another has all rocks with a couple of fruit trees in the middle. Another planted herbs, and, yes, some lovely zucchini flowers near the lavender and poppies, in the side yard facing the street. Each believed this was "suitable." I never heard any complaints about any of these people, but Julie got in hot water for being different. The issue is bigger than Julie's case, and is ripe for discussion as more people are making decisions to use that front lawn space more efficiently.

What Does "Suitable" Mean?

I suppose it all depends upon what dictionary one uses. My dictionary on my I-MAC gives this definition: right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation. My American College Dictionary (Random House, 1966) offers this definition: such as to suit; appropriate, fitting, becoming. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, (Simon and Schuster, 1984) adds this: that suits a given purpose, occasion, condition, propriety, etc.; fitting, appropriate, apt. This same book offers this as one of the definitions for suit: to be fit, suitable, convenient, or satisfactory.

I'm not sure in what dictionary the city of Oak Park found suitable defined as common, but I did not see common as one of the definitions in any of my dictionaries. I cannot even find "common" as a synonym in Rodale's Synonym Finder. So it would seem that the city's case rests on which definition is right, and, in turn, how one chooses to define appropriate, fitting, or becoming. As the maker of the video pointed out, why pick on Julie for her vegetable garden when other neighbors have tall weeds covering their front yards?

Just what is appropriate? I suppose that, too, is subjective, since it's a matter of taste. Do I think Julie's vegetable garden could be more attractive? Yes. I think some of that bare dirt could look better with an attractive ground cover and some paths. I think more flowers among the vegetables might also look nicer. Those are all improvements that can be made, and might offer a compromise. But the question still remains? Who determines what is suitable?

Have You Ever Grown Edible Plants in Your Front Yard?

Have you ever grown vegetables, fruits, or greens in your front yard?

  • Yes. My entire front yard is (was) edibile)
  • I have added some edible plants to my front flower beds or had fruit or nut trees in the front yard.
  • The most edible thing I've grown in my front yard are herbs and edible flowers.
  • I wouldn't think of growing anything edible in my front yard.
  • What front yard?
See results without voting

Would You Object to Julie's Garden ?

If Julie's front yard vegetable garden were on your block, would you want the city to prosecute her?

  • Yes. It's an eyesore and would ruin my property values.
  • No, she has a right to grow vegetables in her front yard if she wants to.
  • No, but I'd wish she would fill in some of that bare dirt around the raised beds with something more attractive as time goes on.
See results without voting

Charges Against Julie Dropped -- for Now

I just added another link with the details of this story. They have dropped charges that would have made the July 26 pre-trial necessary, probably because the media drew attention to this case, but then Oak Park got her for not having licensed her dogs. She has since licensed them and is waiting to see if the city will write an update to the front yard law that would make her out of compliance again. Stay tuned.

Now It's Happening in Tulsa!

A friend just posted this link on Facebook about how the code enforcement officers in Tulsa violated a court order and literally ripped out a woman's herb garden and fruit trees when they did not violate any specific law or code. I find this shocking! Its hard to believe someone can be so cruel and unjust. Why this animosity toward those who want to use their land to grow food? Our city is actually encouraging people to use their yards this way.

What Happened in One Neighborhood

What Should Julie Do with Her Garden?

One thing that would beautify Julie's garden is the passage of time. Right now the raised beds are rather empty. As the vegetables mature, they will quickly fill the beds and make them visually more appealing. But that still leaves a lot of bare dirt that could fill with weeds. If you were Julie's neighbor, what suggestions might you give her for making her garden more acceptable to her hostile neighbors who are responsible for complaining? Or would you support her in leaving it as it is and adding to it as she sees fit? This issue is really bigger than just Julie's case. Many others are considering edible gardening in their front yards. Please share your ideas in the comments module below.

Maybe you believe Julie is in the wrong and should be required to take her garden out. Would you insist she put the lawn back, or would you mind as much if those raised beds weren't so obvious and the rest of the yard weren't so bare? Do you think whether Julie goes to jail should depend on how "unsuitable" is defined by by an enforcement officer when it's not spelled out in the law? Is growing food in the front yard by itself wrong, or is it really how it's done that should determine whether people should be able to do it? Who should clarify the law so it's not so subject to interpretation? Do you support any kind of edible gardening in front yards? Please express your opinion in the comments section below.

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What Do You Think Should Be Done about Julie's Garden? 49 comments

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

This is close to my heart..I think every person should grow their own food, as much as they want, front and back and on the roof if they If we can become independent and have our own food source then the food industry will start to fall thus loosing lots of much deeper than people realize. I say let her grow what she wants..I totally support edible makes so much more sense than wasting the ground on vain yard objects just to say, "look at my pretty lawn"..The bottom line is she is growing food..I do not understand the big deal...

Thanks for bringing up a great topic..


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

It makes sense to me. Would you draw a line anywhere with this?

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from Maryland

I always mix a few vegetables in with my flowers. Gee, hope the police don't knock on the door soon. (If they do, I might just throw a home-grown tomato at them!)

PenMePretty 5 years ago from Franklin

Interesting topic. I love homegrown vegetables. Lots of people grow them on their front porch. What about fruit trees in the front yard? :-)

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Dirt Farmer, I would mix some in my front flower beds, too, if my Mom, from whom I inherited the house, had not used snail bait in those beds. I have to wait until it's gone before I put anything edible in there.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

PenMe Pretty, I see lots of fruit trees in both front and side yards in neighborhoods here. They are equally in public view and the public has easy access to them. I saw a peach tree in a public park yesterday, loaded with green peaches.

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Honestly...vegetable beds can be beautiful with the mixing of flowers..I guess as long as they were maintained..I don't think there would be a problem..

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I think if Julie had done hers that way, her neighbors would have been more understanding. I think the biggest problem was all the bare ground, but that was there after the lawn was destroyed to fix the sewer. Something had to go there.

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

True...have to come to a happy medium sometimes...I think if I did would be more of a natural landscape amongst flowers ...companion planting idea..

JimmieWriter profile image

JimmieWriter 5 years ago from Memphis, TN USA

Suitable does NOT mean common. That's retarded. Seriously. What a dumb, dumb thing to do (prosecute Julie). This woman is being productive, resourceful, thrifty. She's providing food for her family. Why oh why would we penalize her? So much for "land of the free."

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Jimmie, according to all my dictionaries, and I checked another one that was unabridged last night, you are right and the enforcement officer is wrong. I hope that enough will cause the judge to throw the case out of court. Julie hasn't lost yet. The more word of this spreads, the more pubic support will be generated, which is why I'm trying to help spread the word and draw attention to this issue. City bureaucrats think they can make these ambiguous rules and interpret them as they see fit without anyone really paying attention. They need to see that people are paying attention.

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands


I cannot believe that this would be considered illegal or offensive!

I wouldn't do it, because I would worry about vehicle pollution affecting the plants, or vandals spraying them with poison, or stealing them, so I would prefer to keep them in the back garden, where they would be safer.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Trish, if you watch the "Front Lawn Yard to Food" video above, along the side with suggested videos is another by the same man who addresses how to keep people from stealing the food you are growing. If you follow the "Starting a Garden" Link above, it addresses some things to consider before you plant your front yard vegetables, including avoiding pollution.

SusieQ42 profile image

SusieQ42 5 years ago from Lakeland, FL

I enjoy looking at vegetable gardens. My parents had a huge garden when I was young. The cars stopped to look at it and they many complements...guess now you know how I feel about it.

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I find the whole thing totally big brother. One should be able to grow any (legal) thing he wants on his own property.

Becky 5 years ago

I think that she should be able to grow her vegetables wherever she wants to. I have seen tomato plants in people's flower beds for years. If the neighbors have a problem with the bare dirt, perhaps she could get some crushed gravel and make paths with it. That will keep the weeds down. She could also plant some nature's insect repellant marigolds in with the vegetables to help beautify and it would also help keep the insects down.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

SusieQ42, when I was a small child, my dad had a huge garden-- also chickens. That's where I learned to want a garden when I grew up.

Hyphenbird, I tend to agree.

Becky, I like your suggestions. Nasturtiums are also beautiful edible flowers.

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi WannaB Writer :)

I had a look at some of 'growingyourgreens' videos, and noted that he had some tall frames, etc.

I don't think that we would have a problem growing vegetables, but I don't think that those frames would be allowed here.

A neighbour had a wall / fence built, which looked fine, but which was considered to be too much.

kentuckyslone profile image

kentuckyslone 5 years ago

Everyone should try to grow at least some of their own food if they can possibly do it.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Trish, a lot depends upon the community rules. Sometimes neighbors here complain if someone plants a large tree or bush that will block a neighbor's view of the street when he is backing out of his driveway, and the same could hold true for a fence or wall that might be considered a safety issue. We have some very creative neighbors in our area who have removed large portions of their lawns and replaced them with not plant materials, for the most part, leaving a little edge of lawn. It;s attractive because they used statuary and a patio with a few planters. I'll bet know one would notice if they had attractive vegetables in the planters.

What a community had to have is a spelled out policy that applied to all and is not subject to interpretation. People have to know the rules. Is raised beds aren't allowed, it should be in the law. The law should specify maximum height of fences, hedges or structures and distance they should be from driveways, if those are an issue. Or the law could prohibit structures near driveways that blocks a drivers view of the street as he exits. If a code all depends on who interprets it, it's all a matter of opinion, and a person's opinion of the neighbor in question might determine how he applies the law.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Kentuckystone, I agree. Not only does it help one appreciate how food grows, but it fulfills a basic human drive to connect with the earth and see one's dependence upon it. It also helps neighboring (or your own) children realize where food really comes from. For the Christian there is an added benefit of understanding many of the Scriptures better, since the Bible is full of references that are based on an understanding of knowing how grapes, fig trees, corn, olives, and other foods are grown and prepared for eating. The more one grows, the more one sees his own dependency on God for his food, as rains at the right or wrong time, an obnoxious gopher or ground squirrel, an insect invasion, or an unexpected early freeze can all determine whether his crop will survive and bear a good crop.

C-Bless profile image

C-Bless 5 years ago from Canada

Every so often, something flashes across the airwaves that makes one pause in astonishment. This is one of those moments! I hope Julie is able to reap a great harvest from her garden.

visionandfocus profile image

visionandfocus 5 years ago from North York, Canada

I think it's absolutely ridiculous that she's being persecuted for doing something everyone should be aspiring to--sustainable living. It's yet another instance of appearances trumping substance--a sad reflection on society as a whole.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

C-Bless and Visionandfocus, I once had a neighbor when we had bought our first house. He was retired, and had appointed himself official lawn critic of the neighborhood. He used to walk up and down the street, making comments about lawns he thought should be mowed, weedy lawns, etc. It wouldn't surprise me if Julie has such a person in her neighborhood who started this whole complaint process. In many cities potential violations occur or a code is violated. If none of the neighbors care, no one goes looking for violations to enforce. If someone complains, the city gets involved. Many people are good at ruining other people's investments by putting obstacles in the way of property owners by changing the rules after they have bought the property. Smart and Final bought an old unused building in Paso Robles that had sat empty for years. It wasn't lovely, but it was old. It was familiar. It did not have any official landmark status. But the minute S&F had it bought and was about to renovate it for their retail outlet, the old timers came out of the woodwork and talked the city council into designating it a historic building so that they could not change its exterior looks. S&F gave up because such a renovation was much too expensive. It's since been bought by a winery to use as a tasting room, and they would not have to make the same changes as S&F. What I don't like is when the rules aren't on the table before someone buys a property so they will not have unrealistic expectations that would cause a clash with the city or its people if they do what they had planned. Often people with the right connections can get a zoning variance that a person without such connections can't get for a project. I wonder if Julie's situation would be the same if she had a friend or relative on the Oak Park City Council.

c-bless 5 years ago

Wanna ... you made some brilliant points -- politrix and too-much-time-on-their-hands retired folk can really cause some havoc. Please keep us informed with Vegegate.

jetta17 profile image

jetta17 5 years ago

Wow, I think it is really poor that we as property owners cannot do as we wish on our own land. On the other hand, I used to grow many herbs in the front yard until people started stealing... so I'm just not sure if front yards are cut out to be gardens.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

c-bless, I'm hoping the case will be dismissed, but I will post here anything I find out.

Jetta, in another video that deals with just the stealing issue, the owner says most people have no idea what he is growing, and he grows the things people are most likely not to recognize as edible at the front close to the street, and things like tomatoes and corn closer to the house where they are harder to get to and see.

galleryofgrace profile image

galleryofgrace 5 years ago from Virginia

She should label everything in the garden and invite small groups of school children for a science/ gardening learning excursion! Why, surely they wouldn't outlaw education! The visitors could even enjoy an edible snack. Some of them have never seen vegetables on the vine.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

galleryofgrace, a city this irrational just might outlaw that, too, for fear of creating too much traffic. Or, they would make her get more liability insurance.

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

I'm with Jetta - the only edible thing in our front yard is sage, because of experiences with people who obviously assumed that raspberries grown as a front yard hedge were meant for the public to eat! Probably that's the only reason it isn't common to have edible front yard gardens.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Sage, rosemary, and lavender are great for the front yard, and are also extremely drought resistant. I rooted a lot of little rosemary plants from the backyard plant last year, which I planted in the front yard last fall. They are great for the places the sprinklers seem to miss. In my own front yard I want some color, and so far most of it comes from edible calendula flowers, which are yellow or orange, and yellow gazanias. Rosemary blooms blue, in contrast, and when I get my root divisions of sage and lavender planted this year, they will offer purple contrast when the rosemary is not in bloom. i also have some potted borage in front blooming purple right now. most people don't think "edible" when they see the herbs in shrub form, and they are so prolific I'd never miss a sprig or two if someone did recognize their worth. Berries, on the other hand, are different, expensive to buy, and very tempting.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

This is a very interesting topic. I think the garden could be made more attractive but I see nothing wrong with growing vegetables in the front yard if is done in an attractive way. The fact that she could be sent to jail is ridiculous.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I agree with Pamela. If there are neighborhood rules that prohibit such things then that might be something to consider. But jail? Ridiculous!

Julie McM profile image

Julie McM 5 years ago from Southern California

I followed this story as it was unfolding, and just found it ridiculous that the city was enforcing out of date codes. Times are changing. Cities, counties and states are encouraging people to buy and eat local foods. More people are growing their own foods for economic, safety and environmental reasons. Local governments need to update their laws to reflect what is happening across America.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA

It sounds like the neighbors belong to the busy body committee. Who cares if she had purple flags all around her front yard, it is really none of their business. The fact that she is growing vegetables should be encouraged.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Pam, Peggy, Julie, and Sweetie Pie, since you seem to be expressing similar thoughts, and since I'm a bit behind, I will reply to all of you at once.

If one lives in a neighborhood, there is always going to be at least one neighbor who will not approve of something you are doing or not doing -- at least that's been my experience. There are some neighbors who are extremely concerned about property values and how their neighbors' activities might affect the resale value of their property. If all the neighbors have lawns in front, there is someone who will complain if you don't keep yours mowed, if you rip it out and put in gravel and cactus instead, grow vegetables, or fly purple flags. If there isn't a law against an activitiy, there are always people who will insist there ought to be one. If enough people in a neighborhood object to what a neighbor is doing, even if legal , they sometimes make life miserable for that neighbor.

As Julie pointed out, our culture is changing and the laws, especially neighborhood regulations, aren't keeping up. I guess the important thing is to try to be a good neighbor and ask your closest neighbors how they feel first when you are about to do something unconventional. Maybe explain the problem you are trying to solve and see if they have any suggestions instead of just surprising them.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

I love gardening. For this case, it depend how we put the garden and the wide of the garden isn't use the street. Thanks for share with us.

Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 4 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

Whatever happened to live and let live? Her garden wasn't hurting anyone. I'd a whole lot rather see an honest citizen trying to do something contructive and useful than a lot of the alternatives I can think about.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

@ prasetio: From the looks of things, this garden was not too near the street, but it didn't have a lot of eye appeal. Some people probably didn't like the looks of the raised beds, and they might have objected even if they had been full of flowers.

@Silver Poet: I agree, but some people feel something different than other homes in the neighborhood will bring their property values down.

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

This one really steams me. Do they not own the land and the house? It is ridiculous for someone else to impose their pettiness on a neighbor.

Yes, when you live in a suburb you are part of a community and although I can understand that a garden might break up the visual harmony some perceive with lawns, is a garden really an eyesore? If it is, it isn't something that is is being neglected, it is being tended to and it can reasonably be argued that their garden is a necessity.

If they had a rusty old pickup on blocks, greasy parts strewn about on a dried up lawn, then I can understand. But personally, I find rock gardens ugly and barren, what difference does it make if one neighbor has a rock garden and another has a real garden with lush green plants that are well tended and organized?

Just one more reason not to live in the city!

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I completely agree. Yet the United Nations (Agenda 21) would like to see us moved from rural land and packed together in small houses or high rises close to the new high speed rails they would like to build so we won't "need" our cars. Guess we still won't have to get a television, since we'll be involuntarily listening to whatever our neighbors are watching.

I'm not against people who want to living in suburbs or cities. But those who prefer the rural lifestyle outside of town should be able to do so -- without having their wells and septic tanks subject to the new regulations the water board here in California is trying to impose. But that's something I could write a separate hub about if I had time.

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Really! I had no idea that the UN is trying to move us toward a future dystopia that is often predicted in science fiction. Personally, I think the the packing together of people is at the root, evil because we are forced to move and breathe at everyone else's pace and wish. The last sentence of your first paragraph is hilarious.

As a California resident myself, I am still unhappily surprised that the state is trying to regulate rural living standards - it is none of their business - but that's what we get with a nanny state. I have a friend that wants to move to Oregon because it's more free. I am looking into that, but although they don't have sales tax (still!), they are also very liberal (which means the opposite when it comes to regulations) and you can't even pump your own gas. But taking the Amtrak through Oregon, you get to see a lot of redneck property, it's depressing and encouraging at the same time - but that probably means it's also less regulated. So that may be my destination too. I just don't want to become one of those Californians that move up to Oregon and become a nuisance.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Oregon is tempting, and I love spending time there. But its west coast is liberal. I understand, though, from a sales rep I talked today who lives in rural east Oregon, that it claims to be a United Nations free region, and the mentality of people there is much different than in West Oregon. She lives not far from Bend.

Most of California isn't that liberal. It's just the cities that are, and the college towns, like San Luis Obispo. South County gets more supervisors on the board, so they run things, and they are liberal. We are working on that. I'm not for trashing our beautiful state. We are to be good stewards of what God has given us. We are also supposed to have dominion over the other living things, and that's where our liberal friends disagree with us. And that's why they'd rather see crops dry up than have anything happen to that delta smelt. We need to get God-given common sense back into governing this state, and politicians seem not to have much of it.

Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Nicely put - I agree, the Earth has been given for us to use and care for, but not to our own detriment.

Resipieces 4 years ago

Plant lavender around raised beds . Looks pretty and is natural pesticide !

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

I love lavender. I grow it in many parts of my property.

healthy meals profile image

healthy meals 4 years ago from Europe

It is so rewarding to grow your own food that I don't see why someone should be "punished" for it. I hear that during war time people in Britain were encouraged to grow their own vegetables in their gardens. I think that was a good initiative that should continue.

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Healthy meals, my dad had his large garden in our huge backyard. Back then it was assumed that back yards were the place for such activities and front yards had to be pretty to look at to keep neighborhood property values constant or rising. This idea has been ingrained in most homeowners. Now my city is encouraging people to turn their lawns into food or to tear them out and plant drought resistant plants instead. That's because water is scare here and lawns are always thirsty.

healthy meals profile image

healthy meals 4 years ago from Europe

Thanks for the information, I didn't know that.

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