Remember back when folks used to get tickets for making beautiful kitchen gardens in their front yards? I mean, like 10 years ago, when you’d read about those crazy neighborhoods where a tax-paying home owner would receive some sort of cease-and-desist order from their stuffy neighbors for not pumping their yard full of pesticides and grass seed, but instead choosing to grow basil, berries or tomatoes? … Yea, I thought we were over that too, but apparently, in Memphis, fear of kitchen gardens remains alive and strong.
Adam Guerrero has been a resident of Memphis for 10 years, a high school teacher for 6, and a gardener for ages. In his front yard he has chosen to nurture produce and wild flowers in place of the standard Americanized lawn. The garden, which he’s been working on for 2 years now in with help from his students and other kids from the neighborhood, has recently been deemed unsightly and grounds for criminal persecution if continued.
Got a note from the Kitchen Gardeners page (check them out on FaceBook!) describing Adam’s situation. It’s certainly not unheard of. We had this debate in Chicago about 10 years ago. In California and Oregon, they had it 40 years ago. Of course it creeps back from time to time. Neighbors like consistency. And laws concerned with sidewalk access and food safety often keep people from growing produce in their front yards. But Mr. Guerrero is a home owner. A tax payer. This is his private property… and in the opinion of many (perhaps not his immediate neighbors,) he is putting the land to better use than simply greencarpeting it.
My little sister and her housemates have a lovely home in Santa Cruz, California, where, in their front yard, they maintain a massive and intricate garden. It not only promotes and advertises her housemate’s garden education non-profit, it is the most gorgeous (and delicious,) yard on the block. Back in Illinois, I recall a debate over the yard in front of a glorious mansion in Evanston (north of Chicago.) For years, the homeowner had been cultivating a wonderful space for native plants, which, in Chicago, means a beautiful array of flowers and tall grasses that bloom in the spring and die back in the winter. At some point, new neighbors moved in, and, forgetting we live in the MIDWEST PRAIRIELANDS, demanded the historic property replace its native masterpiece with a shorn expanse of always half-dead/half-cheminfused Frankenlawn. The community rallied behind the resident and compromise was made. The yard segment closest to the street would be turned back into good old American/HomeDepot grass seed, while the section closer to the house would be allowed to flourish as a native plant masterpiece, as long as it was kept tidy.
In the case of Mr. Guerrero’s yard, The Memphis Flyer reports that there’s been no visible trash on the property and plants have been kept off the sidewalk and driveway. Unfortunately, it sounds like neighbors are demanding a complete return to mowable lawn. Including shopping down his 7-foot tall sunflowers. It’s a shame. The Flyer describes the yard as lovely- “eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants grow in the front yard; the backyard is lined with rows of wooden worm bins; barrels for collecting and storing rainwater are stationed next to his backdoor; his garage is stocked with equipment for making biodiesel and soap; and behind his garage are beehives quietly humming with industry. Elsewhere, passionflowers, butterflies, elderberry bushes, and sunflowers fill out the garden.” There’s a great slideshow of images from the garden featured in the Flyer article. Surely not common for a town-like setting, but surely there are others in the community that must recognize the project’s capacity for education and inspiration!
Kitchen Gardens have persevered and flourished in other regions of the country. Let’s hope a middle ground can be found here- for the sake of Mr. Guerrero, his students, and their community. Means for voicing support of Adam and his garden can be found here->