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How Growing Your Own Vegetables Can Get You Arrested

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During WWI and WWII, nearly every home had a vegetable garden. In fact, it was almost unpatriotic not to have a plot to feed your family and friends. Called “Victory Gardens,” these plots were necessary to free up food to be sent to troops and to hungry civilians overseas. Tending a small garden in your yard was considered to be your part of the war effort.

We’ve come a long way since the Victory Gardens of WWII. Governments have begun to legislate how our property can be used and what we can grow. There sometimes seems to be a war against self-sufficiency in any direction. Vegetable gardening in the city or even on suburban yards is under attack in many areas and could get you fined or even jailed.

What is the Law in Your Town?

I would encourage everyone to plant a garden. It is one of the most effective preparation techniques available. If SHTF, you will need the skills and experience to survive.

But, I also want you to check the laws in your area before beginning the project. If you find laws against growing vegetables in your yard, I would encourage you to fight to change those laws. Check ordinances with your local zoning department and also with your local Homeowner’s Association, if you have one. In most areas, you should be able to find copies of the zoning laws and building codes in your local library.

How Bad is the Problem?

Unfortunately, it is a common problem in many cities and towns. If you live on rural land, then you probably have nothing to worry about, for now, anyway. But more and more city councils and zoning departments are making laws requiring low growing ground covers such as grass and restricting the types of shrubs and trees that can be planted. In some areas, edible ornamentals are allowed, but in others they are not. Even on “private property” the environmental officer may come out to inspect your plants, especially if a neighbor has complained.

Examples of Current Laws and Violations

Here are just a few of the cases that have hit the news in recent years. For every case you find on the news or the internet, there are many more that chose to comply and not make a fuss. These isolated cases represent many others who got no publicity:

  • In March of 2016, Sugar Creek, Missouri passed a law requiring all vegetable gardens to be set back at least 30 feet from the road and 50 feet in residential areas. Existing gardens were grandfathered in and allowed to continue. In many residential areas 30 feet is the entire front yard.
  • An Oak Park, Michigan woman, Julie Bass, was issued a ticket and faced 93 days in jail for not removing her front yard vegetable garden. She eventually got the charges dropped because of public outcry. However, it was a thin victory, since city officials then charged her with other charges over a dog licensing issue that had already been resolved and increased the possible jail time to 180 days. Julie also spent much time and money on lawyer fees and court costs.
  • In 2012, Newton, Massachusetts residents were ordered to remove their tomato garden because they did not have zoning permits for the 13-foot high garden trellis that supported their tomatoes. A permit that should not have been needed or required since a tomato trellis is a temporary structure.
  • Weeds: Many cities and towns have ordinances about weeds and weed maintenance. If the weeds grow in your garden, it can be used against you to remove the garden. Even a weed free garden can be attacked if it appears straggly or untidy in any way. And, unfortunately, you don’t get to decide what is a weed. Your enforcement officer will do that for you.
  • Laws about what kinds of plants can be planted in the yard can be used to remove gardens at the will of city officials. Most ordinances are vague enough to be used however officials want.

Fighting for Food Freedom

Many of the homeowners above chose to fight for their gardening rights and won. However, they expended much time and money that should have gone to other endeavors. They also risked making enemies in the power structure of their local cities which can do further damage eventually.

I believe that in America, we shouldn’t have to fight for the right to plant a garden or even grow a wildflower “weed” garden on our property. However, most of us lost those rights long ago. If your area does not regulate what you can grow, count yourself lucky and fight to keep those rights. It is difficult, almost impossible for most people, to get back any lost rights.

Am I Exaggerating? Isn’t this all Blown Out of Proportion?

Henry Kissinger has been quoted as saying: “Who controls the food supply controls the people.” Unfortunately, this is very accurate in times when food is scarce or of poor quality. Governments and potential tyrants see food as a way to control your behavior and well-being.

Reasons to Return to Homegrown Victory Gardens

Today we already worry about the pesticides that are used to grow our foods, the varnishes, waxes, and other coatings that are applied to keep them fresh, genetic modifications to make the plant grow faster, and bacterial infections spread through poor food handling. There probably are other food borne problems that we don’t even know to worry about. Growing your own food allows you to side-step all these potential problems and know where your food came from and how it was grown. It also helps you get closer to nature and reduces your carbon footprint.

Even if you don’t garden and have no desire to grow a garden in your yard, it is worth your time and effort to maintain those rights. None of us knows what the future may hold and we should prepare for all possibilities. If you don’t garden, support those who do. You may get a few tomatoes and zucchini every summer for your efforts.



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