Across the country and even in Canada, cities’ thinking about front lawns is more than a little bit antiquated. It comes down to this simple formulation: Grass good! Vegetables bad. We’ve heard one too many stories in which people decide to use their yards to grow some fresh vegetables, only to have city officials come down hard on them, forcing them to tear out their food or bulldozing the gardens themselves. If building a few bike lanes counts as a war on cars, this is definitely a war on gardens.
The latest skirmish took place in Drummondville, Quebec, where Josée Landry and Michel Beauchamp built what supporters describe as “a gorgeous and meticulously-maintained edible landscape full of healthy fruits and vegetables.” (You can judge for yourself: It’s the garden in the picture above.) Under the town’s new code, a garden like that would be illegal. It covers too much of the yard. Under the new rules, only 30 percent of a yard’s area can go towards growing vegetables, and the town’s given the couple only two weeks to pull out their carefully planted veggies.
At least Drummondville hasn’t pulled a Tulsa and bulldozed the entire thing.
If you start looking for stories like these, you’ll turn them up in droves. In 2010, Clarkston, Ga., fined a gardener named Steve Miller for planting too many vegetables. In 2011, Oak Park, Mich., told Julie Bass she couldn’t grow any vegetables in her front yard because vegetables weren’t “suitable” yard plants. (“You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard,” a city official told the local TV station.) And in Chatham, N.J., Mike Bucuk, a young would-be organic farmer, had to fight with the entire town just to grow some vegetables his family’s property.
Now, some of these gardeners didn’t just want to grow vegetables for themselves: They had enough land and time that they wanted to sell some of their bounty at local farmers markets. But whether these gardeners are planning to feed their own families or a few of their neighbors doesn’t really matter. It’s not the 1950s anymore: Not everyone needs to grow a perfectly manicured lawn, especially when vegetable gardens can look just as attractive, improve the soil (instead of requiring tons of pesticides), and provide fresh food. If the problem is that these types of front yards are illegal in current city codes, then the codes need to change, along with people’s assumptions that a burnt-out, water-sucking lawn is better than a few patches of thriving tomato plants and string bean vines.