Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I originally typed this out in an email response to a friend who sent me this link:

Woman Faces Jail Time For Growing Veggies In Front Yard

I have to say this is pretty deplorable. The idea that the only thing you should grow in your front yard is water-insatiable grass is so wrong-minded. I'm glad that people are making a big stink about this, because codes should not keep people from growing food in their yards.

But, I would argue that people going to jail over vegetable gardens are just a symptom of a deeper problem. And you can blame The Government if you want, but bad government is yet another symptom of the real problem, which is lack of community.

In the above case, the city planning code just says the front lawn must be "suitable" which can be interpreted in lots of ways. If worse comes to worst and people are starving then vegetables are going to be pretty damned suitable. So the problem is less about the code and more about what some busy body neighbour found "suitable." So either the arrested gardener didn't know that neighbour, or they didn't like one another very well. Both problems could be easily solved by more community spirit.

But everyone is too busy trying to trade their time in front of a computer screen or behind a steering wheel for numbers in a spreadsheet somewhere that represent the memory of little pieces of paper and metal that they can then trade for food and electronics and fossil fuels so that they can hunker down harder and outcompete their neighbours. Because every number in your neighbour's column is one that isn't in your column.

So,we can change the code so it's okay to grow a garden in your front lawn but then people will be complaining about some other godamned ridiculous thing, or the code will be set down to include tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers but not arugala or zucchini. Or countless other things that are always wrong with that sort of solution.

Or, we can spend less time hating each other and "competing" with each other. And then people will want to let their neighbours grow gardens because they get to share in the produce sometimes and because who gives a rat's ass if it takes a few hundred dollars off the average property value on the street, is being able to sell your house for a slightly-higher profit more important than enjoying your life while you're in it?


EricM said...

I feel uncomfortable about the glibness of this explanation and proposed solution. Without additional community, but just additional "live and let live" spirit, we could solve a lot of these problems and continue to hunker down behind our computers or in front of our TVs (odd how those have different front sides, eh?) and not have to worry about actually making friends with our smelly neighbours.

Having said that, more community is probably a good idea, but what if you're an atheist in a community of devout Christians? Or any ostracized member of any group outside of the mainstream community? "But," you say, "that's the wrong type of community. That's not what I'm talking about." But that's what most people think of when they talk about "community".

I think the problem of "not being allowed to grow vegetables in your yard" is orthogonal to the problem of community or individuality. It's more related to the "centralized/distributed" thinking axis, I think.

terriblenews said...

I am not really comfortable with you putting words in my mouth, nor the mouths of "most people". ;*)

Mostly what I mean here is that there are a lot of people you will have to deal with on a regular basis and there are a few ways to go about it. You can imagine yourself to be a rugged individual who solves his own problems and got everything she has through the sweat on her brow. And then you will have conversations like "Stop lower my property value!" "Fuck you, it's my yard I can grow what I want" "Bam. Jail."

Or you can recognize that, like it or lump it, your smelly neighbours are your smelly neighbours and as much as what they do affects you, what you do affects them. And then your conversations might sound more like "I was thinking of putting in a garden" "I dunno, might affect property values..." "Yeah, but this is a pretty big space and I would't be able to eat all those delicious, fresh, healthy vegetables myself..."

In any event, I didn't want to propose a solution here. I just wanted to encourage people to be a little friendlier with the people they regularly interact with, even if it's in unseen, unobvious ways.