Oak Park— When Jason and Julie Bass had to rip up their front lawn to replace a pipe, they decided to rebuild it this spring with raised beds and filled them with vegetable plants.
Their front yard garden of cucumbers, tomatoes and peas has since landed the Oak Park couple a ticket, a court date and support from around the globe. It's also led city officials to fend off thousands of emails and even threats, the result of the couple's blog and Facebook page — "Oak Park Hates Veggies."
"It's kind of silly, honestly, when the city has so many challenges financially," said Julie Bass, who planted the garden after consulting neighbors and city officials, who did not show her an ordinance that explicitly outlawed gardens in the front yard.
"Focus your attention on growing the city instead of bothering us for growing vegetables in our front yard. It is a waste of their time."
City officials do not hate vegetables, they simply do not belong in the front yard of a community that takes pride in landscaping with trees, shrubs and grass, Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski said. There are ordinances that regulate the aesthetics of the community, such as the height of grass and weeds, he said.
"But that doesn't mean we hate grass," said Rulkowski, who was barraged with 2,000 emails Friday from as far away as Australia, and even received threatening phone calls at his home. "I don't know of any community where I have seen a full garden in the front yard. In planning and zoning, we try and put things in appropriate places."
Bass planted the garden to fill her front yard that was destroyed by the pipe project, and to educate her six children about food and where it comes from. But the issue has resonated among those who relate to her plight and who support urban farming or water conservation, or sympathize with complaints of government interference.
"It's a cautionary tale about government abusing power, and here's us, we're like Joe and Jane Normal," Bass said. "We are trying so hard to do the right thing and all of sudden fire and brimstone are raining down our own heads."
But Rulkowski countered he tried to work with Bass even as she was planting the garden, and gave her a notice. But she insisted on moving ahead, and that's when the citation was written. Additionally, he said, there have been several complaints from people in the neighborhood.
The Basses are scheduled to be in court July 26 and face misdemeanor charges for ordinance violation. If found guilty, they could face up to 93 days in jail.