In the past year or so, I have seen a growing assault on a specific type of individual freedom. A seemingly innocuous activity has drawn the ire of local officials, and when I tell you what it is, you will think it is so silly you just might laugh. You might even think that paying attention to this issue is a waste of your limited time, but I can assure you from my own personal experience that it absolutely is not.
In June of 2011 I faced a 93 day jail sentence for growing vegetables in my front yard. Yes, you read that correctly. There was no other issue, no hidden criminal mischief, no homeowner’s association, no history of any other violations. There was nothing in the municipal code that prohibited growing vegetables in the front yard, nor was there anything, unsightly or even vaguely menacing. Yet I was charged with a misdemeanor. If my case was an isolated incident, we could just attribute it to an overzealous city planner and that would be the end of the story.
But in September of 2011, Memphis high school teacher Adam Guerrero was ordered to dismantle a similar garden. In his case, he used the garden to educate students from the local high school about growing food, making soap and biodiesel, harvesting honey, and giving youth productive and constructive ways to use their time. For this he was dragged into court and labelled a troublemaker.
In June of 2012 Karl Tricamo of Ferguson, Missouri was ordered to tear up his front yard garden in spite of the fact that it clearly violated no zoning ordinance. He chose to stand his ground rather than capitulate to bullying by his city, but it was a difficult fight, and one that a law-abiding citizen should not have to wage. Karl won his fight too, but the city is planning to retaliate by drafting new and stricter gardening ordinances that will prevent him from continuing to plant in the future.
In October, 2012 the Helvenston Family in Orlando, Florida were ordered to remove their front yard vegetable garden, with a citation stating that, ”Front yard must be restored to its original configuration and ground covers restored.” In spite of the fact that the original complaint was made by a landlord who lived over 1,000 miles away, and in spite of the fact that neighbors in the area were in support of the garden, the City claimed ground cover violations, then ruled that the vegetable garden was agriculture and only allowed it in the rear yard where there is no sun. The Code still has not changed and the case against them is still pending. Up until this point, they have not been allowed to speak in front of the city council, nor been given a fair hearing, despite the city repeatedly telling media that they are working with the couple to find a fair solution to the situation.
Perhaps most egregious, though, is the case of Denise Morrison in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Denise grew a varied garden of herbs, flowers, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. She was cited by her city for violating their zoning ordinances. And while her case was pending, before she had her hearing, city workers came and razed her garden. That’s right. No due process. no fair trial. All because some local bureaucrats wouldn’t tolerate one woman growing some of her own food.
So what can you do? I am asking you to be courageous enough to sponsor a bill that will protect a citizen’s right to grow food. I am asking you to pass into law something that should already be obvious to thinking people: that a free citizen should have the right (barring legitimate concerns over safety and welfare of others, of course) to grow food on their own property. Protect individuals from the petty tyranny of local governments.
Yes, I know we can vote in local elections, and we do. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you took a stand on this issue? I’ll tell you who would support you, because they supported me during my fight with the city (which I won, by the way): people who care about: food safety, food rights, water conservation, energy conservation, organics, local politics, human rights, keeping government in check, farming, slow food, eating local, land use issues, environmentalists, water quality, peak oil concerns, saving money, healthy diets, teaching and learning, improvising in a tough economy, self-sufficiency, therapeutic benefits of gardening, creating strong neighborhoods and regaining a sense of community, taking pride in what you work for (a most American value), as well as many other things.
It used to be that Americans were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens. Average people felt they were helping their country and their families by putting their hands in their soil and growing some of what they ate. They took pride in the fact that they were able to see the results of their effort on their very own dinner table. Today many people struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Slogans are thrown around about how best to help people who are just trying to “make it”. Here you have case after case of people who are willing to do what it takes to plant what some have termed the new “Survival Gardens”. How wonderful it would be for them to be able to flourish in peace!
At the heyday of our battle, we had several hundred thousand visitors following my story on my blog. I’m sure there were at least that many following our story on other websites and through other media. Undoubtedly you would have more than that supporting you in this issue.
I will eagerly await a response from you.
Thank you and best wishes,