I realize that I’m a bit late to the game on this one — my normally fine-tuned front yard-vegetable-gardener-under-fire radar was down last week while I was on vacation — but better late than never, especially when it involves a law-abiding, self-sufficient citizen triumphing over tyrannical city officials who have a distaste for edible front yard gardens simply because they're not up to aesthetic snuff. Last month when I reported on a similar story involving a Tulsa homeowner battling code enforcement officials, the outcome wasn’t so happy. (Long story short, her extensive, largely medicinal garden was cleared away in an apparent violation of court order, and she’s now embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit against the city.)
Last week, 29-year-old stay-at-home dad and blogger Karl Tricamo, experienced a victory of sorts — a victory proceeded by a massive, months-long squabble complete with stress-related health woes and “creepy drive-bys” by code enforcement officials — when the Board of Zoning Adjustment for the city of Ferguson, Mo., voted 4-to-1 to throw out a citation that would have forced Tricamo to clear out his organic vegetable and herb garden. And to be clear, the citation was handed off to Tricamo’s landlord, who just happens to be his future brother-in-law.
So what exactly about Tricamo’s 35-by-25-foot plot filled with more than 55 varieties of veggies including beans, eggplant, corn, sorghum, tomatoes and peppers irked Ferguson officials so much that they demanded he remove his hyperlocal bounty and replace it with grass? Apparently nothing, aside from the fact that Tricamo’s vegetable garden broke convention by being planted in the front yard instead of the backyard. As Tricamo has painstakingly documented, nothing about the garden violated city code including the "exterior appearance" code. Board Chairman Joe Schroeder, the one member who voted to uphold the citation, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The board felt that, technically, he had the law in his favor. But I think that all of us on the board agreed that the garden is an eyesore. It goes against common sense, really, to put a garden in the front yard instead of the back.”
Eyesore? Really? Says Dave Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri who acted as Tricamo’s lawyer: “Gardening is part of the basis of human civilization. Is it unusual to have a garden in your front yard? Yes. But the city had no right to demand he remove it.” Roland adds in a statement issued by the Freedom Center of Missouri: "Unfortunately, some government officials are willing to try to control how citizens use their property, even if there are no laws against what the citizen is doing and there is no threat to the public health or safety."
The ag-minded daddy originally ripped out the sod yard in front of his modest brick rental and planted the garden as an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed his family including 5-month-old son, Kae, while eliminating the need for a water- and chemical-intensive front lawn. Says Tricamo of the outcome: "We felt vindicated. I had taken steps from day one that everything would be within ordinance. They just tried to throw everything at us and hoped something would stick."
Congrats to Tricamo and his family. Here's hoping for good health and even better crops in the future. And for Schroeder? Here’s an eyesore of a front yard for you, good sir …
More garden stories on MNN:
- How to install a front yard vegetable garden
- A quaint British town where greenthumbs, not sticky fingers, rule