Our prepared statements to be read at the City Council meeting on June 12th:
My name is Nikki Brandt and I also live at 309 Louisa. My fiance was laid off the week of Christmas 2011, when I was 7 ½ months pregnant. He looked for work for a month and found nothing. As my due date approached we realized that we were going to have to make major changes in our life plan once the baby arrived. Instead of me staying home with the baby, he would have to. In order to cut down on expenses, and to use his time at home productively, we decided to plant a garden. Our back yard is shaded by many large trees on neighboring properties and is not conducive to good plant growth, thus our choice to plant the front yard. Edible landscaping is a viable option for beautification with functionality.
Many people throughout the history of our country have started gardens in the face of tough economic times. During WWI, the government launched the Victory Garden initiative, encouraging citizens to grow their own food and sell the excess to help support the troops. Nearly 20 million gardens were planted during the war, and these provided enough food to keep the country running and the troops fed. The gardens helped to improve morale, and let citizens feel that they were doing something productive for their country. During the Great Depression and into WWII, Liberty Gardens were encouraged for the same reasons. Eleanor Roosevelt even had her own garden on the White House grounds. The gardens helped preserve fuel needed to run trains, planes and vehicles by reducing the amount of produce shipped around the country, and cut back on the amount of rationing necessary stateside while we supported the troops.
Even though we don’t have rationing, nor a major war going on, food shortage is a real concern. The small farmer of 30 years ago has been pushed out by large agriculture. The population of the world is growing, and our one major resource, land, is being used for parking garages, football fields, and lawns. Many countries cannot produce enough food to feed their populations, and the US is well on its way. We import more than 18% of our food from other countries, up from 6% in 1990, and that percentage is increasing by a larger margin yearly. As the country’s eye turns to health and sustainability, home gardening is not only going to become more common but more necessary. In March of 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama began one of the most expansive gardens on White House grounds as a kick off to her Garden Project, encouraging the nation’s children to eat better and fight rising obesity. She hopes that as she reaches more children, they will in turn teach their parents about healthy eating and home gardening.
Ferguson’s “Live Well” program is supposed to encourage a healthier lifestyle in its residents. A main part of the program is supporting improved dietary habits. Our plants are all Heirloom varieties- non-genetically modified, non-hybrid plants. The seeds produced can be planted year after year and produce fruit. We use no pesticides and our own organic fertilizer. It is a well maintained, attractive garden, which most of our neighbors are proud to have in their neighborhood. It is a conversation point, and has allowed us to get to know our neighbors better in 3 months than in the 6 months we lived there prior to planting it. It has helped my fiance keep active while unemployed, will provide healthy, nutritious food for our family, reduces noise and other pollution, and is much nicer to look at than the brown zoisia grass that it has replaced. We are within ordinance, and have taken measures above and beyond to maintain the “curb appeal” of our garden, yet I have seen my fiance stressed to an extreme. He is a happy person and I have seen that joy slip away. Gardening should be a form of stress relief, not a daily cause. Thank you.
My name is Karl Tricamo, and I have an herb, grain, vegetable, and flower garden in the front yard of my home, at 309 Louisa Ave. My time here is limited, so I’ve printed up documents to further detail the situation, which have been given to all council members, and are available to anyone else interested.
I am gravely concerned that opinions have been enforced without being backed by ordinance. I have been visited by code enforcement 4 times in a 3 month period. I have received 3 mailed notices and have been cited 6 different ordinance guidelines against our garden.
The first cited ordinance was 7-120, dealing with the minimum standards for dwellings and dwelling units. It only outlines structural guidelines other than section (i), which states that all yard areas not covered by lawn or vegetation must be treated in a manner to prevent dust, but says nothing about gardens or landscaping. The second ordinance cited was 7-134, dealing with Grounds. It states that every yard, court, vent, passageway, driveway, sidewalk, fence and other portion of residential lots shall be kept free of debris, weeds and safety hazards. It says nothing about gardens or landscaping. The third ordinance cited was Zoning 8.58, dealing with yards and outdoor structures. It states that every part of a yard shall be open to the sky, unobstructed except for accessory buildings and decks in rear yards, and projections of porches, overhangs, and similar items. It says nothing about gardens or landscaping. The fourth ordinance cited was 7-133, dealing with building exteriors. It regulates guttering, roofs, street numbers, foundations, walls, windows and doors, stairways and porches, accessory structures, and exterior surfaces. It says nothing of gardens or landscaping. The fifth ordinance cited was 00.000- Other, and simply stated to remove plants from front yard. This ordinance does not exist. Finally, Zoning 8.0 was cited, stating that we are not zoned for agriculture. Under Zoning 2.0 definitions, agriculture is defined as “One or more lots or parcels of land 2 acres or greater in size, used to produce vegetables, fruits, livestock, flowers and other plant material for both on and off-premises sales.” Our lot is merely a 1/4 acre lot, and we not selling anything from our garden.
It was stated by the Public Works Department that they realize there are no ordinances against our undertakings, that “they just don’t want it”, and that if we didn’t cease and desist, we would be fined with any violations they could come up with and if fines were not paid a lien would be put on the house. I have repeatedly attempted to show that I am in compliance with all relevant ordinances. There are currently no laws that regulate landscaping, other than those for trees and shrubs, defining weeds, vines, and overgrowth, and outlining the removal of such. Ordinance states that these standards shall not apply to cultivated plants or vegetation in gardens. 7-120 (i) states that all areas without lawn or vegetation must be treated in a manner to prevent dust. This gives precedence that a lawn is not mandatory. Yet I have been told time and again to “seed and straw” my front yard, referring to grass, and later to remove my plants from the front yard.
There are many residents of Ferguson with beautifully landscaped yards, and I feel that ours has been singled out only because of it’s edible nature.
I wish not to be a thorn in the side of any resident, or city official, but I feel that just because something is unorthodox, does not make it wrong or illegal. Thank you.
Statement from the City Manager on May 25th:
“The City first looked at this property when a complaint was made by another resident in the neighborhood; at that time, the owner had removed all of the grass from his front yard creating potential erosion problems and other concerns. The City then learned of the owner’s desire to plant crops covering the entire front yard of the property. Public Works immediately met with the City Attorney to review the Municipal Code, in order to determine how this resident could accomplish his goal of providing produce for his household, without breaking the existing ordinances.
Of course, these ordinances are in place to protect residents from adverse effects and nuisance conditions caused by certain land uses. In order to avoid or mitigate those adverse effects on neighboring properties, local governments designate separate areas for commercial, residential, industrial and agricultural and impose further regulation to ensure a necessary separation between these uses.
Because of the nature and scope of the agriculture proposed by this property owner, the owner was informed that the proposed agricultural use was too intensive for this residential property. However, the City provided the resident with other options. These included using one of the community gardens that the City had established for this purpose and tending a smaller residential garden on the property.
The nature and scope of the proposed agricultural project within a dense residential area raises a number of concerns such as the attraction of insects and rodents, public safety issues due to the height of the full-grown corn, and the erosion that will occur once the growing season is over. However, the City has met with the resident and is continuing this discussion at the present time.”
The following was my response to the City Manager’s statement:
“In a meeting with the Mayor and City Manager on May 25th, I was for the first time made aware of specific concerns. Code enforcement had previously only written down numbers for either vague or incorrectly cited ordinances, without any explanation. We were told only to “remove plants from front yard” and were not given any reason as to why. When I attempted to show City ordinances to them, to show I was in compliance with all applicable laws, Code Enforcement ignored me.
The City Manager asked me to help write a new ordinance to regulate the establishment of front yard gardens. I understand their wish to regulate landscaping, as there are no current ordinances to do so. I do not feel qualified to make those decisions for the residents of Ferguson, nor do I want to impose regulations on myself that would cause me to be in violation of ordinance, when I am currently in compliance. I did offer suggestions in regards to the many subtle nuances that go along with tending a garden.
They brought up a concern over the height of full grown corn plants, citing them possibly being a safety hazard. Current law has a height restriction for weeds, overgrowth, and wild vines, but specifically states that such does not apply to “cultivated flowers, or vegetation in gardens”. The bulk of my corn plants are in a row roughly 30’ from the street. I fail to see how they could pose a hazard. I do have a much smaller 2’x2’ section of 10 sweet corn plants, roughly 10’ from the street. If such is deemed a hazard, I will promptly remove them, but at the moment, they are less than a foot tall. If a height limit on plants in gardens is enforced, all landscaped yards with trees, shrubs, or other cultivated growth more than 6 feet tall, and that are that close, or closer to the street, should also be deemed hazards.
We were asked if we would consider a 4’ easement between the garden and the sidewalk. The nearest edible crops to the sidewalk are cucumber plants, which are more than 5 feet from the sidewalk. In front of these, there is a row of flower bushes, and ornamental amaranth to help beautify the outer perimeter of the garden. Many yards in Ferguson have landscaped portions that come all the way to the sidewalk. If this easement is enforced with a new ordinance, it should also be enforced for all other existing cultivated plants and landscaping, not just edible gardens. I do not feel that the city is prepared to extend this to residents that have put just as much effort into landscaping their yards. Granted, these residents could be granted a variance to such an ordinance, but that would continue to show discrimination towards edible plants.
Other concerns were discussed including the possible infestation of the garden by rodents and other pests. This is a notable concern, but until there is an actual infestation, I fail to see how I can be told this is a reason not to have a garden. A garden in the back yard carries the same potential for infestation. It would be as ridiculous as outlawing automobiles, since they could potentially break down, and then become derelict vehicles. It was asked what would happen if I failed to continue keeping the garden in a tidy fashion. I explained that there are nuisance and blight laws in place to protect against that. Another concern was what would happen once the garden was harvested, in regards to soil erosion. I do plan on having winter crops, especially given how mild our last few winters have been. The area can always be mulched or furloughed during that time if need be.
In regards to the “intensive nature of the agricultural project”, I do not meet the definition of agriculture as set forth in Zoning 2.0 Definitions, “Urban Agriculture– One or more lots or parcels of land two (2) acres or greater in size, used to produce vegetables, fruits, livestock, flowers, and other pland material for both on and off-premises sales.” (Plant was misspelled there). Our property is far less than 2 acres, merely a ¼ acre lot. The usable dimension of my garden is less than 25ft by 35ft. We are also not selling any of our produce, as that is forbidden by state and federal food safety regulations. If I am guilty of agriculture for having a well thought out and elaborate garden, which holds far more than only vegetables, I feel that anyone who has taken pride in their cultivated flowers, fruit trees, “other plant materials”, or even other edible gardeners would be guilty of such as well.
I was given the suggested alternative of utilizing one of the City’s community gardens. I already have a raised bed at my disposal at the Ferguson West garden on Suburban. Sadly, a 4’x6’ area will hardly cater to my desired production of food and seed for future use. The majority of community gardeners use hardware store bought seeds and plants. These are often hybrid or otherwise modified seed, and would cross pollinate and contaminate any plants I had growing in that area. My entire garden is completely from non-hybrid, heirloom seed. I have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into procuring these so that the F2’s produced are viable and can be grown in the future. Seeds grown from hybrid plants do not have that ability, or will produce inferior plants.
Another suggestion was “tending a smaller residential garden”. There are absolutely no ordinances stating the maximum size of a residential grain, herb, flower, and/or vegetable garden. It is merely their opinion that my garden is too large. Opinion does not dictate law. There are more than 55 different varieties of cultivated plants in my garden. More than 45 of those are limited to a 3’x3’ section each.
I do not wish to be a thorn in the side of any resident, or city official, but just because something is unorthodox, and potentially controversial, that does not make it illegal. I am open to further discussions with the City on this matter, I just hope that any new ordinances drafted that are expected to retroactively enforce regulations are not just in regards to edible plants, but all cultivated plants so as not to be discriminatory.”
May 22nd- FOX 2 called the city manager’s office. This was John Shaw’s reported statement.
“We had no intention of tearing the garden down. Code enforcement is checking the garden to see if the owners have complied with the seeding and plant ordinance warnings. They will have the opportunity to plead their case to a judge.”