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Richmond Gives Thumbs Up to Its Front-Yard Gardeners

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 25, 2009 - 07:06:00 PM

In nearby Richmond, Garden Club activist Jayma Brown had raised concerns with city officials after she was told during a monthly neighborhood council meeting that the city had banned front-yard gardens. 

Brown, who also serves on the city’s Historic Preservation and Community Development commissions, found herself deluged with responses after Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and City Councilmember Jim Rogers got involved, followed by the city planning and legal departments. 

“I was a bit leery to go public until I knew the answer,” Brown said, “But now that I know, I am proud that Richmond has no laws against edible public gardens, and I know that many people are moving towards creating more edible gardens within our city both on public and private land.” 

First to respond to Brown’s concerns was Rogers, who e-mailed city Planning Director Richard Mitchell. “I wasn’t aware that the act of growing fresh, healthy food (e.g., lettuce) in one’s front yard (and avoiding contributing to the 20 percent of the global warming problem that is related to food production) was illegal ... If it is illegal, please inform me as to the arguments in favor of illegality.” 

Mayor McLaughlin followed with an e-mail of her own to Mitchell, asking if front-yard gardens and fruit trees ran afoul of the law. 

“If it is indeed a Richmond law, I would like to ask the city attorney’s office to change/cancel this ordinance and bring it to council for a vote ASAP. I would be happy to sponsor such an ordinance change.” 

Assistant City Attorney Mary J. Renfro came up with the definitive answer, reached after consulting the city’s Health, Public Safety and Welfare and Zoning codes. 

While some legal provisions require yard maintenance and “prohibit nuisance conditions that might attract trespassers and vermin,” none of them suggests that it is impermissible to grow fruit or other edible plants in the front yard. 

Many of the members of the new garden movement are also organic gardeners, the bane of American agribusiness. 

Consider the reigning star of America’s organic planters, unofficial First Gardener Michelle Obama. 

Days after the presidential partner and a group of Washington, D.C., fifth-graders turned a section of the South Lawn of the White House into an organic gardening plot, Bonnie McCarvel, executive director of the Mid America CropLife Association, and CropLife “Ambassador Coordinator” Janet Braun had fired off a written response  

After wishing “congratulations on recognizing the importance of agriculture in America,” they praised “conventional agriculture” and hailed “crop protection products and their contribution to sustainable agriculture.” 

Every single comment to the letter on CropLife’s own web posting of the letter was critical, with the tone ranging along a spectrum from sarcasm to scorn and finally outrage.