There is something horribly wrong with a city that won’t allow me to plant snap peas because they aren’t “suitable plant material” and yet a woman down the street from where I live has a completely legal yard of gravel decorated with plastic flower bouquets. Obviously, the local government has no business meddling in aesthetics.
Days before digging up a patch of otherwise unused yard, I called the Department of the Environment to check my garden plans and ensure that everything was square with my district’s codes. Nobody was available to talk, so I left messages. The next day I was called (during work hours) and a woman left me a voicemail without identifying herself.
“You can’t grow food in your yard. It’s a violation.”
Beep. That was it.
After the fury died down a bit, I took to the internet. Laws like these aren’t posted in plain sight. They aren’t on my lease agreement, they aren’t accessible from the typical web hubs designed for tenants and DC residents, they aren’t addressed on the DOE site… As of this moment, I can’t find them anywhere.
But when I finally get my hands on the documentation, I’m taking it door to door.
It’s obvious that the city doesn’t fine for this violation on a regular basis. On my old street, a family grew chiles and sunflowers in their front yard. A few houses down from where I live today, someone has a raised bed full of squash and an outdoor compost bin. By the park, only a short stroll away, are houses growing cactus, peppers, cherries, cabbages, mulberries and cauliflower. I’m sure there are plenty more food crops in my neighborhood, and they’ll likely emerge with the warmer weather. One can only guess that crime is keeping the police busy in DC… not strawberries.
And speaking of crime, isn’t there a law still in effect that you can beat your wife, but only with objects of a certain diameter? DC’s stance on “suitable plant material” is almost as stupid. To say that beautiful, sustainable, healthy, simple, mindful gardening will only result in an eyesore the city will simply not allow is stalling progress. To claim that grass and gravel are preferable to fruits and vegetables is lunacy. To protect a neighborhood from trellises and butterflies but doom them to run-off, water waste, and soil destruction is hypocrisy.
It isn’t 1955 any more. I don’t stay at home ironing in chiffon and washing dishes with rubber gloves, thank heavens. But if we can uproot the dated, preposterous societal girdle that was mid-century sexism in the house, how are we frozen in time with what lies just outside of it? What purpose does a lawn of grass serve? As far as I can tell, standing on my front porch, all it does is turn brown, collect garbage, smell like dog feces and tarnish an otherwise pretty Capital Hill neighborhood. And yet these are the yards that are legal. The beautiful ones that are groomed and full of life are “unsuitable.”
Of course, I’m not the first person to notice this illogical law. One woman was threatened with jail time for her vegetable patch, and her story was blasted all over the internet and on nightly news programs. I don’t think I’m as brave as she was, so I’ll be keeping a low profile until my Brussels sprouts are legal. In the meantime, however, I urge you consider what this sort of nonsense does to society. It prevents low-income families from growing fresh, organic foods that cost too much to buy at retail prices. It prevents children from having first-hand experiences with raw food and ecology at home. It further separates “rural” and “city” life; a slow but steady trend that has fueled ignorance, bias, and backwards motion in our country since the industrial revolution.
If you think that gardens are beautiful, or that the growing of food is a natural right, please stay tuned. I’m not likely to be very passive on this front.