Growing Food in Your Front Yard is Illegal

I feel for Sean Law. He thought he was doing the right thing putting his front yard to productive use. He started to turn it into a prolific forest of edible perennial and annual plants. Not planted in rows but a mélange of stacking and companion planting that would rule out the need for chemicals to keep unwanted weeds and pests at bay. Instead he found himself in trouble with the council and now has over $100,000 in fines to his name. You see, Law’s neighbours didn’t recognise his statement–political or ecological as it may be. They saw it as an infringement on their rights. It attracts wildlife they say. Writes Charlene Sakoda on Yahoo! News:

“His next-door neighbor Bobbie Corbitt told WOFL Fox 35, “We have all kind of weird animals, rodents and stuff, and bugs. I have bugs that I’ve never seen before come in my house.” To which Mr. Law responded, “There are ants in the world. I’m not God I didn’t put ants in the world.” Another neighbor Kathy Ettman said, “If he wishes to live that way, which is his choice, go to an area that accepts that. That means you go out to ranch land.”

Growing your own produce in your own front yard is ranch land behaviour? Please. If I am to accept that I  insist that lawns are for golf courses and sporting fields.

I think this story, and all the others similar to it—there have been a few—shows how touchy middle-class suburbanites can be. Further, it seems to be a very American phenomenon. Front yard vegetable gardens and fruit orchards are common here in Australia. Irrespective of their chaos, they seem to elicit curiosity and inspiration rather than hostility and vengeance.

In fact, I have a hodge-podge of pots and plants, at various stages of fertility, bolt, and heat exhaustion, in the front corner of my front yard (if you can call it that, it’s so small). It’s a bit chaotic—helped along by a veritable psychedelic rainbow of different coloured pots. Neighbours and fellow community members wander past every day—walking dogs, taking kids to school, heading to the tram to commute to white-collar desk jobs. They look—it’s hard not to—and ooh-and-aah, poke and prod, and marvel at the stuff that looks just like—arguably better—the stuff they see in the supermarket. “Growing food in pots in your front yard? How cool is that? How natural. Must try that at home!” their smiles and curious eyes suggest. I can’t even fathom, in my neighbourhood at least—very much your leafy, middle-middle to upper-middle class inner suburb where late-model leather-interior sedans and high-spec renovations are the norm—somebody dobbing me in; complaining that my little corner ‘o’ chaos is ‘unsightly’ or ‘immoral’ or ‘disruptive’. Maybe I am lucky. But it seems to be forgivable in this country.

Law has created a campaign that aims to “grant relief to Sean Law from all orders and fines from the special magistrate; and begin a city food forest initiative to live in greater harmony with nature and greatly increase food security.” (Grammar edited by me.) Do sign it if you want to help set a positive precedent.