Doing Hard Time for Vegetable Gardening?

I am thankful that I live in the city I do. Our city’s approach to urban agriculture, homesteading, and gardening is huge. In fact, it’s all too common to see someone growing vegetables in their front yard. We allow urban chickens, and I do believe you can probably have goats. We have food preservation classes that are affordable. And for a while the city even gave away free rain barrels for those who wanted and could use them. Personally, I find it inspiring.

So it blows my mind that in Oak Park, Michigan, a mother of 6 is facing the threat of 93 days in jail for doing exactly what it is so many of us do in this town: Raised bed gardening in her family’s front yard…

(Obviously the city planner didn’t actually look up suitable in the dictionary, because of the few I cited, I couldn’t find common used in any of the definitions.  What dictionary is he speaking of exactly?  Unless he’s going by the obsolete usage of similar or matching…  Still not common.  Word of advice?  Don’t talk to the press and cite something before looking it up…  Sort of like don’t quote a religious text unless you’ve read it and made sure the quote is actually in there.)

The urban homesteading community along with gardeners on the internet are up in arms. And you know what? They should be! If a woman wants to grow organic vegetables for her family (especially her large family!) in her front yard instead of grass, I personally don’t think it should be a problem. In fact, I would go so far as to say she should be held as an example of what we all should be trying to do in this economy and current agricultural system! Good for her for working to provide healthy food for her children! Good for her for being frugal! Good for her for wanting to be more environmentally responsible.

Having read some of her blog, I noticed that despite wishing she could have chickens, rain barrels and other accoutrements of sustainable urban homesteads, she doesn’t because they’re illegal in her city. The law over the plants in her front yard are very vague and subjected… What I find suitable obviously isn’t the same as the city of Oak Park. Personally I don’t feel that grass is a suitable plant in any yard unless it’s native… It’s both an environmental disaster, and well… It’s an allergy nightmare if freshly mown or left to go to pollen (aka the yard’s not taken care of) for me, so maybe I have a tiny personal problem with it.

This really is just outrageous, though… I mean, I’ve spent a few days trying to wrap my brain around this. Aren’t there real criminals to throw in jail? Doesn’t the city have better things to worry about, like maybe making sure they have healthy meal options in public schools or something? Are they just so bored that they need a hobby other than picking on their citizens?

If you feel this is as ridiculous as I do, please take a moment to write an email to send to the appropriate people (see below), sign the petition, write about it in your own blog, and join the Facebook page dedicated to keeping us updated on what is going on.

Oak Park City Planner – Kevin Rulkowski
Oak Park Mayor – Gerald E Naftaly


The 2011 EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Very few people will argue that organic produce is better for you than produce obtained from commercial farming. At our home, we’re on a very limited budget for food of around $30 a week for two adults right now, but that budget does fluctuate throughout the year. Fortunately, we keep to a vegetarian diet at home (I eat meat when someone else is kind enough to fix it for me) unless we have company. If we were eating meat, we wouldn’t be able to get by on that little.

We eat seasonal as much as we can, because doing so cut down costs and doesn’t support shipping things like tomatoes from other countries.

We eat local produce as much as we can, which in the summer is actually easier and more enjoyable than going to the grocery store. I’m not sure when the last time I bought food for us at a conventional grocery store was, because most of our food is currently coming from the farmer’s market or a CSA share we belong to. When I go to pick up my CSA, I grab up flour, milk and the other necessities I can’t get at farmer’s market at a tiny grocery store that only sells locally-produced products and a few carefully selected organics from not within our state.

We also eat as organic as possible, which admittedly isn’t easy when we’re stretching the dollar, though the price of organic food is actually more realistic and fair to the farmers that produce it. Most of your local farmers would likely tell you that conventional farming doesn’t pay a living wage.

Still I sometimes have to choose to obtain certain things from the grocery store, and they aren’t organic due to cost. We do what we can, but we’re committed to not owning credit cards to buy our necessities with.

For those of you who are like me, you can still buy a mix of organic and non-organic produce. When I have to buy conventional, I stick to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Things on the Dirty Dozen list are the produce for the year that they’re finding the highest concentration of pesticides (and sometimes unapproved ones! Yikes!) on, and the Clean 15 are the least chemical-laden. This is even after being washed and peeled.

This is the Dirty Dozen List for 2011: Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines (imported), grapes (imported), sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries (domestic), lettuce, kale/collard greens. I personally ad #13 to the list, which is cilantro, because that’s a big one for unapproved chemicals this year (33?  Really cilantro farmers?  Really?)

The Clean 15 List for 2011: Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocadoes, sweet peas (frozen), mango, eggplant, cantaloupe (domestic), kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms, and winter squash.

Here is a link to a basic article on this year’s list

Get the full scoop from the EWG’s website

So what about you?  Do you stick to lists like this to help you make decisions in shopping?  Are you organic or death?  I’d love to hear about your rules for grocery shopping.