One of the greatest joys I’ve discovered in growing a veggie patch on my city lawn is other people.
There’s our neighbour, the Garden Guru, whose own lawn is a veritable urban farm, and who never fails to offer advice or complaints about our gardening skills. He also gladly shares his own produce and waters for us when we’re away.
There’s also the Hoarder, an older Italian gentleman who we see strolling the streets on garbage day, arms loaded with other people’s discards—old stakes and poles, lamps, even a barbecue once. He helped us a few years ago when a great big load of soil arrived and it had to be shovelled into the patch, and helps us still whenever it looks like we need it. A few weeks ago, he urged us to pluck our zucchini flowers and fry them up in batter (he gave us the sense that if we didn’t do it, he would!). Though I’ve eaten zucchini flowers in restaurants before, these succulent delights straight from our own garden were one of the highlights of my culinary life.
The Garden Guru and the Hoarder gather at the former’s fence surrounding his farm nearly every day, laughing and teasing one another, grumbling about the state of GG’s pear tree or the proper use of caldo verde. (I realized recently GG doesn’t know H’s name—he still refers to him as “The Italian Guy”—though they’ve probably known one another for 25 years!)
There are lots of kids and parents and adults who stop and look at the plants in my garden, pointing out the cucumber or basil or zucchini. Whether we know their name or not, people ask us what we use for fertilizer (answer: compost) and how long the lettuce will last. We recently met someone who just moved into the neighbourhood because she wanted to know what kind of leafy greens we were growing. We talk with passersby about heirloom tomatoes and parenting and sports and the smell of garbage on Toronto streets. Growing a vegetable garden on a city sidewalk is a very social endeavour, an amazing way to connect with your community, and my entire family loves it.
So it was with a sense of disbelief that I read about the Oak Park, Michigan, woman who faces jail time for planting her front yard with vegetables. Poor Julie Bass has a bunch of very neat looking wooden boxes on her front lawn, but apparently they aren’t acceptable. The city planner suggested that “a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers” was more suitable for the City of Oak Park.
If the charges hadn’t been dismissed this week, she could actually have faced 93 days in jail for failing to adhere to such rigid community standards.
If that city planner and his comrades could see the kind of community give and take that happens on my street because of the gardens— friendships made, stories shared—they’d realize that instead of making city veggie gardens illegal, they should be legislating gardens for all in the interest of greater happiness, better health and more cohesive communities.