My Letter to the City of Oak Park

I sent this letter to the mayor, city planner, and city manager of Oak Park, Michigan. If you haven’t heard, the City of Oak Park is threatening Julie Bass with 93 days of jail time for having a very nicely maintained vegetable garden in her front yard instead of lawn. Mrs. Bass and her family are not breaking any codes that the city has. They simply do not like it. I urge you to contact the City of Oak Park and let them know that what they are doing is unacceptable. Their emails are:  Oak Park, Mich., Mayor Gerald Naftaly (, City Manager Rick Fox ( and Planning Director Kevin Rulkowski ( You can read more about Julie Bass and her front yard garden here

In these economic times and as food prices skyrocket, it saddens me greatly that a community would spend taxpayers’ hard earned money prosecuting someone that is trying to feed her family fresh, healthy food.

I am a landscape design consultant working in the prestigious Napa Valley and I’m also an urban farmer. Being a design consultant I know that different people have different tastes in landscape designs. As long as what they want follows standards and codes they can have the design they want. I, myself, have an edible landscape in my front yard, which replaces the lawn we removed. As long as it’s well maintained the city I live in has no issue with it.

The City of Oak Park has failed to show that Julie Bass’ front yard does not follow code. Mr. Rulkowski stated in an interview that Webster’s dictionary says that “suitable” means “common.” However, if you go to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary site, nowhere is “common” used as a definition. If the City of Oak Park wants to ban vegetables from the front yards of it’s citizens than it needs to specify that clearly in its municipal code. However, it currently does not and the vague language is very open to interpretation. The code does not give power to the City Planner of Oak Park to dictate his personal design tastes onto homeowners. I can understand wanting homeowners to have well maintained yards, which the Bass Family’s yard clearly is – more so than many of her neighbors, but design taste is very subjective.

Turf grass lawns are incredibly detrimental to the surrounding environment and if anything should be banned, it should be them. Lawns cause pollution of groundwater and waterways due to the chemicals used on them to maintain their green color. They cause air pollution with the machinery used to keep them short and free of leaves and debris. They create noise pollution with the same machinery. A well maintained lawnmower is around 90 decibels. People begin to have hearing loss when exposed to anything over 85 decibels. Other than a place for children to play and animals to defecate, a lawn offers no intrinsic value to our society.

I urge the City of Oak Park to use it’s funds on something more worthwhile such as helping feed the hungry or end child abuse rather than on this frivolous lawsuit.

Rachel B.

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