Urban farmers as outlaws: It's becoming a familiar tale. Whether it's a $2,500 fine for growing chard in Oakland or bans on backyard chickens in Pensacola, the civic agrarian often bumps up against the cold hard edge of the law. Public opinion may have shifted far enough in some cities to actually reshape zoning laws to allow for farms in vacant lots and other unused spaces, but plenty of ag-minded urbanites in less progressive burgs still toil in their vegetable trenches shaking their garden-gloved fists at the man.
Karl Tricamo of Ferguson, Missouri, on the outskirts of St. Louis, ripped the sod up from the front of his brick tract home last year and started tilling his modest plot. He delighted in the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers he raised just steps from his front door. His front yard garden did more than just supplement salads with the occasional heirloom tomato. Tricamo estimates that 80 percent of their vegetables now come from his former lawn. He even named his frontyard plot the "yarden." The couple now have a six-month-old son who has begun to eat the hyperlocal veggies.
Ferguson city officials, though, didn't appreciate Tricamo's industrious green thumb and cited him for violations of the "exterior appearance code." Code enforcers routinely did creepy drive-bys or parked in front of his house observing the locavore scofflaw. Still, he farmed.
The harassment continued and Tricamo brought in the legal help of the libertarian Freedom Center of Missouri to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment to fight. "People have been gardening since the beginning of human civilization, and the First Lady has even been setting an example by gardening at the White House! I never expected it to be so controversial," Tricamo said.
Despite the protest of the Board's chairman, Joe Schroeder, who called Tricamo's plot an "eyesore," the officials ruled to throw out the citation. As it turns out, there is no law on the books in Ferguson that bars residents from growing crops of any sort where other people may be content to push a lawn mower.
Here at GOOD, we've long praised those who dare to turn their front lawns into food producers—a deviant act, according to Fritz Haeg, author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn. Karl, we salute you.
Image Courtesy of Karl Tricano