Fresh food for family, friends and neighbors. A verdant garden in a city blighted by foreclosure. Neighborhood kids picking sun-ripened tomatoes. A prison sentence.
Sing it with me: one of these things is not like the other one, which one could it be?
For one mom, gardening in her front yard has landed her a jury trial, and possible 93-day stint in jail! The city planning department staff of Oak Park, Michigan are the geniuses behind this epic failure of common sense.
The best part? It’s the city that ripped up her lawn in the first place! Mom of 6 Julie Bass decided to replace her lawn with vegetables only AFTER the city did some sewer line work, tearing up her grass and leaving it up to her to replace it. The raised-bed garden has been producing tomatoes, squash, beans, and melons – and has been a big hit with neighborhood kids, who stop by to snack and help tend the plants.
So what’s up with Oak Park, Michigan? For starters, it’s not some gated Agrestic-style place with tons of manicured emerald-green lawns on display. It’s a town in the grips of economic trouble, with foreclosures and shortened workdays all around. It’s the kind of place where home-based food production can make the difference between eating well or not eating at all. It’s the kind of place where community health workers spend whole lifetimes trying to get kids to eat their veggies. The cognitive dissonance here boggles the mind.
Which brings me to my next question — what exactly is going on in Michigan? This story, the violent closure of Catherine Ferguson Academy, a farm-based school for pregnant teens in Detroit (fortunately with a recent happy ending), and also the gross violation of one parent’s right to choose to NOT give her 13 year old antipsychotic (and dangerous) drugs.
All of these incidents, taken together, paint the picture of a society that is both poised for dramatic cultural change (farm-based schools! front yard gardens! holistic medicine!) and is fighting an old guard violently opposed (arrest! detain! charge! kidnap!) to social transformation. I keep coming back to Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest. It’s like watching his words unfold. Hawken writes: “The movement can’t be divided because it is so atomized – a collection of small pieces, loosely joined. It forms, dissipates, and then regathers quickly, without central leadership, command, or control. Rather than seeking dominance, this unnamed movement strives to disperse concentrations of power. It has been capable of bringing down governments, companies, and leaders through witnessing, informing, and massing… Its clout resides in its ideas, not in force.”
It’s that clout of thought, of urgent and widespread cultural change, that is riding to a crest in Michigan. I only hope that it can reform, regroup, and ultimately – survive.
A quick note to the (rightly) incensed masses: please take a look at Julie Bass’ plea that all the support remain calm, collected, and NOT personal. It would be a shame to have any Oak Park official feel unsafe – when what we really want these folks to feel is transformed.