Keep Big Brother out of our home gardens - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Keep Big Brother out of our home gardens

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Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 5:00 pm | Updated: 10:36 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

One of the escapist delights of Phoenix urban living is connecting with pals at farmers' markets and the organic veggies/fruits section at local supermarkets.

There, as we browse through the offerings of cherry tomatoes, zucchinis, endive, herbs and other farm-grown munchies, we can indulge our back-to-the-country yearnings while stocking up with pesticide-free ingredients for family meals.

Yes, harvesting healthy produce is the "Green Acres" lifestyle to which we city slickers aspire. However, cultivate a garden in your yard and you could wind up in court - or jail.

That's a lesson Julie Bass, of Oak Park, Mich., recently learned the hard way. Her front yard had just been dug up to install a new sewer system, so she planted tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers and herbs in raised wood planters, dusted off her hands, and waited to reap a cornucopia of home-grown organics.

All was well until an un-neighborly neighbor reported her to the city, claiming Bass' tilled yard disrupted the cookie-cutter pattern of grass and trees on the block.

The director of the city planner's office agreed, and issued Bass a ticket, then charged her with a misdemeanor. She faced a fine and a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail.

Being charged for illegal gardening drew a line in the dirt for Bass. Now it was her turn to be outraged. Organic produce was pricey, she countered, and she wanted to economize in this time of recession.

Moreover, the kids in the neighborhood loved her garden, helping her weed and maintain it. What better classroom for city-grown children to learn the basics of growing nature's bounty, she reasoned.

What really riled the country girl in Bass was a municipal government telling her she couldn't plant a garden in her own yard because it was non-conformist with what everybody else was doing.

That's when she turned into a guerrilla gardener to fight City Hall. She ignored the order to tear up her garden, and when the city charged her with a misdemeanor, she counter-attacked by hiring a lawyer.

She also became a media martyr and Internet heroine for her courageous stand. Stories appeared in the media nationally and internationally, and blogs and websites across cyberspace blossomed with the dramatic stand-off of one woman who refused to bow down to the might of an inflexible city code.

Remember, this happened at the same time First Lady Michelle Obama was being internationally applauded for enlarging an organic vegetable garden at the White House and inviting children to partake of the patriotic produce.

All that media and Internet buzz generated an international backlash, resulting in an online petition drive against Oak Park and a Facebook support page: Oak Park Hates Veggies.

City officials finally buckled under the pressure. In late July the Oak Park prosecutor dismissed the case without prejudice. Today, Bass is veggie victorious and standing proud amid her lush garden.

We at the Arizona Holistic Chamber of Commerce hail Bass' victory. After all, good health through good nutrition is a cornerstone of the holistic philosophy.

But the biggest win of this home-grown broccoli brouhaha is the right of all Americans to take into our own hands the cultivation of the greens we put into our mouths - without the interference of Big Brother.

• Janet Gangl is president of the Arizona Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

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