Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gardening Rights

There has been a disturbing trend in the past couple years of local officials outright attacking, through legal channels, people's gardens, homesteads, and other efforts to provide their families with food.  Julie Bass, of Oak Park Hates Veggies, has been the center of such attack (her story can be found here) and has published this open letter to officials regarding these attacks and has requested I repost it here:

Dear Sir/Madam:
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.
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,
Julie Bass

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this, there have been several instances of people either getting charged or taxed for gardens, it seems to be becoming an upwards trend. I think it has been popular for awhile now in the UK and is making its appearances here now in the US for a few years...ridiculous if you ask me.

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  2. Bravo! Thank you for bringing this issue to the folks out here, like myself, that had know idea that this was going on. Growing food on your own property should be a commonsense right given to all citizens of this earth. Law makers need to be using their energy to clean up crime. Not telling us we can't have tomatoes growing by our front steps. Give me a break. Connie :)

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  3. hi chris- just stopped by to check for updates on your personal projects, and was very touched to see the letter up. thanks so much for posting it here, and good luck with all the end-of-the-season happenings on your homestead! :) -julie

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  4. I, too, have certainly seen "government" meddling (greedy & selfish busy-bodies) to be a problem, in various forms.

    Sometimes the opposite has been the problem. We have been unable to sell our former home in another state (TX), even well below its actual value, because the next door neighbor has slummed his place, left it disrepair, created noise and sanitation problems with his dogs, etc.

    Our Constitutional Rights are being methodically stripped away, as radicals are trying to change our Republic into a democracy/socialist grab (which is NOT good!). Is it too late to save the Republic that has blessed us so much, the Republic for whom so many have fought and died?

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  5. A few cases:
    -a woman's house (OK) was taken away from her, and her children, because she COULD NOT maintain it to ESTHETIC the standards the neighbors wanted (That, and one of the neighbors wanted the property, and another neighbor, during the court proceeding, regularly spoke to the judge by addressing him by his first name. The alcoholic husband, who had caused most of the problems the family had had, stealing the money the wife and one daughter earned, and generally refused to help fix things up BEFORE he moved out, was awarded the tiny and inequitable "proceeds" of the forced sale and given all of the personal property to sell, etc. as he wished.) The woman could not afford a lawyer for any of the legal proceedings.
    -a 100% disabled veteran and his disabled wife, with their young children, put their life savings (all the $ from the sale of their previous home) into buying a property (MI) that had a home, a few acres, and had been used agriculturally and commercially for probably at least 100 years [Also, the zoning board broke their own law on that sale, dividing the property to a smaller parcel than ten acres, but will not allow it to be further divided so a more equitable sale of the property could be made.] SO THAT they could MAKE A LIVING continuing the storage, concessions, and small-scale flea market that had been operating there. Even though there was no law against commercial use of the property, and it ALSO had been used commercially for many, many years, (should have been grandfathered, at least), right up to the time of sale, the township zoning board (some were FRIENDS &/OR RELATIVES of the next door neighbors who often trespassed, etc. and were generally disagreeable) threatened the family, making ever increasing restrictions to any commercial use of the property, even finally down to threatening $10,000 per day fines for ANY commercial use (and not even "allowing" more than two PERSONAL "garage sales" per year), a woman from the zoning board coming and cussing out the wife in front of the children. Since the property could no longer be sold commercially or divided into two properties (several hundred thousand dollars worth of facilities had been built on the property FOR commercial use, and had been used as such up to the time of purchase), because of the interference of the township zoning board, much of the resale value was lost, and the property has not been able to sell for even a good resale price, BECAUSE of the commercial building, then the township taxes ON the commercial buildings it will not allow to be used as such. Since the family could not make a living, they were forced to move away to a place where the cost of living was considerably less and live in much poorer housing. The family could not afford a lawyer or the cost of fighting all this in court.

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  6. -A rancher leased some land from his neighbor for his cattle to graze on (MO). The rancher and the neighbor did some "favors" for each other, over a period of time. The rancher, at times, did not pay his pasture rent on time, and some not at all, and otherwise did not keep his end of the verbal agreement, such as keeping the fence in good repair. When the landowner leased the pastures to another man because the rancher's rent was not kept paid up and he wouldn't keep the fences up so his cattle would stop ruinging personal property (of the landowner and other neighbors), the rancher sued, twice. The first judge was sensible and did not credit the ranchers lies and tricks. He rejected the ranchers claim and closed the case; the issue was settled, and the landowner was sent a letter that it had PASSED the point of possible appeal (by the rancher). Lo and behold, before long, the rancher got a lawyer and managed to get file the same charges again, suing the landowner. There was not one shred of evidence that the landowners owed the rancher anything, or had failed in any way to keep their end of the bargain, but the landowner, his wife, and their witness were prevented by the lawyer and the judge from saying most anything, the lawyer twisting everything they did say, and the man and his woman lying repeatedly. The judge (a woman who apparently did not know anything about ranching/leasing pasture/etc. OR even about law in general) made the landowner pay the rancher, who had already defaulted against the landowner, and owed him rent. Of course, there was no proof of any kind that the landowners owed the rancher anything, and in reality, they did not.

    -Water rights usurped in many places, including by some states. Many laws are being made (in violation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens, including landOWNERS). One man (TX) was (at least threatened; I didn't hear of the final outcome) fined $10,000 per day for water used for his cattle on his own ranch, from his own water sources. In some places, the gov't has even made it illegal &/or taxable to even collect rainwater. In many places, also, regarding ground water (wells, etc.). Recently in Missouri, such a water control bill was passed that had slipped by farmers and ranchers unnoticed—the public outcry of the Missourians caused it to be rescinded.

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  7. There is something similar beginning in Utah. Google "Utah Garden Challenge". The state is encouraging people to register their gardens, even one pot of tomatoes on the porch. This does not bode well for anyone who does. I can only imagine what the gov't wants to do with that info. Tax home grown food? Confiscate in the event of a disaster?

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  8. They have the garden registration here in Texas too, and a law that all livestock must be lowjacked, on the excuse "in case an epidemic breaks out, we know which animals have the disease". I don't believe that for a minute. This is straight up government control. When the government controls the food supply, they control the population.

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