Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Compost Cowgirl

"Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers."

-- Mignon McLaughlin

In our continuing series on feisty women, let's drop in on one Julie Bass, who resides in Oak Park, a Detroit suburb. As I mentioned way back, Detroit, with its thousands of vacant lots, is doing some bold experimenting in using formerly urban land for local food production/consumption, based on the common-sense "make lemonade" approach instead of academic theories or imported political ideologies which normally have a stranglehold on city management. There is a backlash in the press and blogosphere, of course, because humans are alarmed at change and react with fear. Poor Julie got her backlash from the local codes enforcement gendarmes.

For the four raised-bed gardens in her front yard, she was threatened with 93 days in jail. There were Victory Gardens in yards during the world wars, and even today in old, rural small towns you see a garden in most back yards. On the west coast, urban and suburban homesteading is being tried in a variety of locations and ways and there have been not only great successes, but several very amusing books written by the experimenters. When the first planned suburbs were designed (I think around Chicago), two of the main principles were monotonous front yards of grass and a generous set-back from the street. Mr. F. Law Olmstead, who was there at the beginning, was and is America's greatest park and landscape designer, but rigid, unchanging, unthinking conformity about suburban living does him no honor.

Mrs. Bass' local codes are both overly specific (tomatoes cannot grow over 30 inches) and unenforceably vague (like everywhere else, come to think of it). The ordinance cited to scare her into abandoning the too-visible vegetable project states what is allowable: "...or suitable live plant material." She went public, raised a defense fund, and even got an interview on MSNBC. The exposure resulted in a dismissal of the charges pending further review, but they can be reinstated any time. Probably after the dust, as it were, settles.

Far away in British Columbia, under a controlled substances law, officials have been raiding homes and outbuildings where food and flowers are being grown inside. Now, they live there, and should know that people do this because the growing season is short, the Springs are cool and rainy, and plants need to be started indoors. After no marijuana was found, they still imposed fines of up to $5200. They intend to collect them, calling the charge an "inspection fee."

The Conformity Police should know that we're armed with large zucchinis and aren't afraid to use them!

1 comment:

  1. Or you can buy the land and own it and say, "This is my land and I can do whatever I want with it" and grow a garden or a forest and let the creatures who were here before us and will be here after we are gone enjoy the shade and water and food abundance they deserve. And grow a couple of 'maters too for personal consumption.