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Grow Visible Vegetables and the Turrists Win?

by DeAnander Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 09:46:13 PM EST

This is another lazy quote diary, a cautionary tale and an appeal for info/ideas.

My buddy Stan has recently become a suburban food gardener:

I live in a modest subdivision in Northwest Raleigh (annexed five years ago into the city limits). Last year, inspired by the politics of food as well as my love of fresh, unpoisoned vegetables, I cleared about 800 square feet of useless grass and "decorative" landscaping, as well as two large stumps, in the front yard. My back yard is almost completely shaded by mature oaks and faces Northeast, making it less than ideal for sun exposure. That's why I used the front. I terraced one particularly bad runoff section of ex-lawn, hand tilled it with shovel and hoe, abutted it with stones, and mulched it to high heaven. The former "landscaped" section I sectioned off into meandering beds with mulched walkways between them. I planted some veggies last year, and we had very good luck all summer with the basics: cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and some herbs.

Not a word was said by anyone.

[...]

This winter, I prepared the soil carefully, adding great mounds of organic compost, lime, and bone meal. When Spring rolled in, I planted spinach, radishes, turnips, carrots, sugar snaps, bush beans, and kale. I also interspersed flowers in the ground and in pots, and the parsley, oregano, rosemary, and thyme had all survived winter on their own (and flowered this year). it looked very good, and people who walked past commented to that effect.

Another aside: I drive a very beat up old Chevy Prism, on which - aside from rust - I also have bumper stickers suggesting the impeachment of the president and calling for an end to the war in Iraq. These are mixed in with a bunch of military crap (master parachutist badge, combat infantry badge, combat medical badge, Special Forces crest, Ranger tab, a "Vietnam Veteran" sticker, a "US Army Retired" sticker, and my MSG chevron) to create cognitive dissonance. Finally, there is a sticker of Crazy Horse, with the text: Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism Since 1492. Oh year, also an American flag that is overwritten with One Nation, Under Surveillance.

Anyway, today I received a two letters in one envelope, dated June 14 and June 29, from Charleston Management Corporation, who handles the dirty work for the HOA. the June 29 letter told me I'd been warned in the June 14 letter (which I first received in the same envelope today) that vegetable gardens are not allowed in front yards here.

My garden is just starting to produce tomatoes, and my okra, cucumbers, squash (and all that summery stuff) is just beginning. Also cantaloupes, and I'm still getting turnips, carrots, and kale like mad.

I have until July 14th to remove my vegetable garden. I checked the architectural and landscaping standards, and sure enough, no veggies allowed... also no herbs. But I have a legal question. Does that mean that nothing edible can be grown? I mean, rosemary is used all over here as a hedge. How does one legally determine what is decorative and what is edible, and that ne'er the twain shall meet?

Any legal advice is welcome.

The other thing the restrictive covenant prohibits is clotheslines. This is an energy conservation issue, no?

Long story short, I have to haul away the piled up brush I was using for bird habitat alongside the house; and now I have to hide my compost heap. But I really really really don't want to uproot my food.

This HOA was successfully sued in 1999 for trying to levy fines on someone. But the text of their bullshit legal document says they can foreclose for violations.

 (See Feral Scholar web site for the full story.)

First off, if anyone knows of a precedent case where a HOA was successfully prevented from destroying a food garden, I'd sure like to know about it.  Secondly, I'd like to say -- and this fires me up with such grief and rage that it's all I can do not to reach for the CapsLock key -- that this illustrates what I've been saying in post after post, about a culture that denigrates the processes of life and subsistence, that relegates food production to "the back yard," out of sight and out of mind, like something dirty or indecent.  We are insane.  This is insane.  To compel anyone on this hungry and thirsty planet to dig up a food garden is an abomination.

Some friends of mine have a similar front yard -- mulched and planted in useful fruits, herbs, and veg -- in a prosperous subdivision of expensive Central Calif real estate.  They are susti garden experts who run a bike-based gardening business.  Their yard is considered a highlight of the neighbourhood, and they give tours which are immensely popular.  People come there to learn how to do likewise.  Their yard has been featured in yuppie magazines.  Go figure.

Anyway, if anyone knows of a case where a home gardener has won the war against the HOA totalitarians [mini-Mugabes, we might say in this case, given that dictator's habit of eradicating home vegetable gardens], a precedent case would be useful right about now.  Or any suggestion of how to embarrass them out of  proceeding.


Poll
A thriving front-yard vegetable garden would...
. Improve my property value, as I'd like to be able to eat after Peak Oil really hits 80%
. Diminish my property value because vegetables, compost and earthworms are nasty dirty things 0%
. What's a vegetable? 20%

Votes: 10
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Other than this Alternet article, I wouldn't know what to do. From the article I would gather that your friend should find out if VA is one of the states cracking down on HOAs (p.3 of the article) and also see how the neighbors feel (maybe if there's enough of an outcry...). That your friend's first warning letter was received in the same envelope as the second might be of interest to a lawyer, but past that I have no idea.

Good luck. Your friend's garden sounds mouth-watering! Nothing compares to just-picked sugar snap peas.

by lychee on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 10:30:21 PM EST
IANAL

The title or deed - whatever its called in NC - will list all covenants and restrictions on the property.  If it says no veggies then he will have to destroy his garden.  The "architectural and landscaping standards" don't mean doo-doo unless the legal documents tie the property to those standards.  Another way to get around them is to read everything associated with the covenants and restrictions and see if the HOA¹ has been conforming to the legal requirements.  

In my experience the local judges and lawyers are financially tied to the local real estate agents.  Stan can try and sue but he'll lose unless his connections are better than the HOA and local real estate people.

¹ HOA = Home Owners Association.  In every case I know the committee members are bottom feeders.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 10:47:33 PM EST
Oops, NC, not VA. What was I thinking....
by lychee on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 11:18:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I first read this I thought it said "and the Tourists Win."  Living in NM does things like that.

Actually the real answer to the problem is grow what you can grow.  Brassics love shady areas and they are some of the best veggies one can grow for food value.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 30th, 2007 at 11:01:30 PM EST
If these are neighborhood assocation regulations as opposed to actual city or county bylaws, it might be harder to fight, since your friend probably signed an agreement to obey the regulations when he moved in.

The first thing your friend needs to do is file an appeal, or if there is no appeals process, file something in small claims court, anything to get a legal stay imposed so he doesn't have to tear up his food in the middle of the growing season.  He can find ways to delay at least until harvest.  He can use a technicality if neccessary -- he didn't get the original letter, for one thing.  In most districts, if they don't send the notification by registered mail, it won't hold up in court anyway.

Second, he can nitpick them to death. If the regulations say no veggies and no herbs, he doesn't have to tear up his tomatoes because they're technically a berry and therefore a fruit.  Containered plants can probably be considered separate from "the garden" and could also stay.  If the regulations say "no food" or are more broadly worded so as to really imply no edible items can be grown, he needs to case the council members' houses and find out if any of them are growing rosemary hedges, or nasturtiums or other edible flowers.

Third, he probably has grounds to challenge the regulations on their face.  Assuming this is Raleigh, NC, he needs to call up the law schools at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill and see if they have students around in law clinics over the summer who could advise him for free.   I think the best bet is probably the Environmental Law and Policy clinic at Duke, but there's also the Community Enterprise clinic there.  UNC has a Civil Legal Assitance Clinic too.  Unfortunately, most of the clinics run only during the academic year, and I'm not sure whether they take direct clients without referrals anyway, but they might have some kind of staff around to answer questions during the summer.  Can't hurt to talk to them, anyway.

More resources:  
North Carolina Justice Center
Legal Aid of North Carolina
LawHelp.org/NC

Just a couple of ideas to start off with.  There are probably more avenues to pursue, including simple public opinion -- appealing to his neighbors.  If the garden's pretty and useful, and he gets compliments on it, the odds are that somebody complained because of his bumper stickers (to state the obvious), but other neighbors could well be outraged if they found out he was being forced to tear it up.  He could put a small sign in the garden saying that the neighborhood assiociation is trying to force him to dig it up, and asking for support.  Maybe post a petition and/or the phone number and address of the responsible parties.  Again, it isn't likely to hurt, and could help a lot.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 05:06:13 AM EST
Huh.  And in going to the local paper's website (the News & Observer) to find out whether they had someone covering local environmental issues that he might get in touch with, I found this article in today's paper:

Better read the fine print
Your home is your castle, if the homeowners association says it's OK

 By Toby Coleman, Staff Writer
It's a good thing the founding fathers didn't try to declare their independence in a subdivision clubhouse.

They might have rejected King George III, but there would be no getting away from the real sovereign: the homeowners association. Amid all their enlightened talk of God-given rights, they would have had to grapple with rules on guests, noise and spittoons.

Two centuries after the Declaration of Independence, a new generation of Americans is quietly submitting to the dos and don'ts of homeowners associations. The result is a widespread experiment with a largely unchecked private form of governance for which almost nobody has planned.

In North Carolina alone, the number of homeowners associations has grown from 3,000 two decades ago to more than 15,000 today, according to the Homeowner Associations of North Carolina. In the Triangle, the number has soared over the same period from 481 to 2,915.

As these organizations become more common, people are realizing that homeowners associations do more than organize ice cream socials, clean community pools and approve new fences. They have become mini-governments with the power to issue fines, assess taxlike fees and even foreclose on scofflaws who do not pay.

Now, some say, it is time for the government to inject some checks and balances. State lawmakers are talking about studying HOAs and are even considering creating a state agency to issue permits to the community managers who help run them.

Legal scholars are working on a model Homeowners Bill of Rights that they hope will limit HOAs abuses by requiring open board meetings, guaranteeing homeowners access to association documents and limiting when HOAs can foreclose on homes.

Hmmmm.

I think your friend needs to call up that reporter.  But more important than talking to the reporter would probably be talking to one of the local opinion columnists who write about such issues and can actually advocate rather than we-report-you-decide.  I don't know anything about the columnists at the paper now (they're all but one different than when I lived there), so I'm not sure who would be sympathetic, but this one has written about both zoning and the environment.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 05:26:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good advice. If only Rick Roderick were alive and still teaching classes at Duke U. He'd probably kick off a seminar series on the class element of this veggie war. Provide philosophical justifications for growing cucumbers, kale and zucchini as edible protests to the agreed  upon 'tastes' of a bunch of old farts on the HOA board. I'm sure the 'non-food growing' requirement was built into the HOA rules (like the clothesline requirement) to make sure that no one would mistake the neighborhood for a bunch of poor folks who actually, you know, needed to grow their own food, or couldn't afford a clothes dryer. So, at bottom it's a class thing. HOA requirements are almost always about propping up property values. In addition to being churlish and snobbish, it's also simply ugly. Their idea of beauty is all about preventing potential eyesores or embarassments; starting with a castrate lawn and ending with some nasty Victorian ivy--that's probably poison. I think that's in part why the American suburbs tend to be the most homogenous and boring places on earth.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 11:16:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hey, if he had 'victory gardens for bush', or 'vegetables turn gay people straight', or 'kill saddam' stickers on his (non-rusty, late-model american-made FUV) car, they'd be queueing up to give this guy homeowner of the year awards.

my suggestion: tell your friend to do a photo-essay on it and try and get some publicity on it, hell, diary it on kos, what would happen if those morons got 100,000 emails and phone calls, might they start to see how deep in the sand their heads are?

copy to grist, michael moore, and al (is it a bird, is it a plane?) gore...

make some waves, ruffle some feathers, make a big poster saying if you paved over your yard, it's all good, but growing food....should be a capital offence! call the radio station...

how dare he undermine the supermarkets' stranglehold on public food supply? what about the poor mexican aliens who will lose their illegal, repug-fattening work if people start to grow their own food?

osama's behind it....

good thing you can't make bombs from organic fertiliser.

this is right up there with 'no windmills on my skyline' and 'no panels on your roof' levels of vanity and delusion.

we're going down, but hell, we look great!

hey, maybe al gore's tv channel will come and do a reportage.

if your friend wasn't a supernice guy, he might even start countersuing saying rosemary plants bring down the neighbourhood, and he'll only rip up his veggies if the others comply-

dumb rules for one, dumb rules for all-

it's the dumbfuck nation way, how would homer handle it?

i'm surprised he got away with it the first year..

land of the free...did he make sure to only use monsanto-copyrighted seed?

well, there you go.

maybe spraying it all with plastic and calling it an art object will be a last resort.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 1st, 2007 at 06:06:14 AM EST
but as far as i know they're hard to fight, legally. one example of sucessful pushback was earlier this year in sacramento, where a bunch of gardeners managed to rattle the city council's cage enough that they backtracked on a measure to ban front yard gardens or excessive amounts of fruit trees.

i'd totally grow chickens in my side yard if the neighborhood association didn't ban 'em.

by wu ming on Mon Jul 2nd, 2007 at 02:14:50 PM EST


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