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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Fines or jail for growing a garden?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner – Leonard Barnes, a repeat winner!


Idiots come in all sizes, shapes and job descriptions. We run into them frequently in everyday life, especially when dealing with power-mad bureaucrats, but we kind of expect that if when find ourselves in court, we’ll be standing in front of someone to whom the label will not apply. Apparently, such is not the case in at least one Tennessee courtroom.

Seeds of Discontent
Code enforcement targets urban garden.

Adam Guerrero and three kids from his neighborhood, Jovantae, Jarvis, and Shaquielle, hardly seem like lawbreakers as they turn over soil at Guerrero’s Nutbush home.

Adam Guerrero with (l-r),Jarvis, Jovantae, and Shaquielle

But the city’s code enforcement department has deemed their urban garden a nuisance, and a judge has ordered them to remove the small ecosystem they’ve been working on for the last two years.

According to the court summons, Guerrero, a math teacher at Raleigh-Egypt High School, was cited for violating city ordinances 48-38 and 48-87: He failed to “remove personal property” that is “unsightly” or a “nuisance,” and he failed to maintain “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.”

Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter upheld the citation, ordering Guerrero to get rid of the “debris and personal property” stored outside his home and trim overgrown vegetation — including cutting down his 7-foot-tall sunflower plants.

“He said it’s considered a neighborhood nuisance,” says Guerrero, who is a member of the GrowMemphis board. “I asked him to define nuisance for me, and he said basically if it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance.”

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

Click here to see a slideshow of Guerrero’s yard.

If it generates a complaint, it’s a neighborhood nuisance? Had Judge Potter been toking on a certain psychoactive weed when he made that pronouncement?

If we are to use that standard, I could force my neighbor to cut down his trees because, each autumn, those falling leaves that land in my yard are sure a nuisance. Then there’s the neighbor with the dog, the one that likes to bark every time someone walks by. Talk about a nuisance. And don’t even get me started on the eye-assaulting paint jobs I see when I drive around town.

The fact is that anyone can claim anything they don’t like is a nuisance and the city’s code-enforcement department and especially Judge Potter should be bright enough to know that.

Personally, I hope Guerrero fights this idiocy by appealing to a higher court and, perhaps, filing suit against Judge Potter for abuse of power and gross stupidity.

What do you think?

20 Responses to “Fines or jail for growing a garden?”

  1. Woody Says:

    I think that when you live in the city you have to deal with lots of idiots. In the country your neighbors can be far enough away that their eccentricities aren’t so annoying. In cities the population density fosters animosity, it seems. To me the solution was obvious and I implemented it.

  2. Christina in No KY Says:

    Until we stop encouraging and supporting a nation of people who believe their discomfort means someone else must change, we will have this type of kangaroo court. When did the wimps and whiners take over? It sure seems like stupidity reigns these last few years. Sure hope we can turn back the clock, otherwise I want a new country. Better yet, let’s give them CA, move all of them there, and we get our country back.

  3. Leonard Barnes Says:

    I wonder how this judge and the complainants in this case as well as the code enforcement official would have reacted to the thousands of “Victory Gardens” that sprung up in the early Forties. On another note, what a great way to keep teenagers occupied, and out of trouble. This high school teacher should be honored in that he is more than a teacher, he is showing the kids how to be self reliant and how to help add food to many tables. Let’s give him and the kids working the garden a medal instead of punishing them. Can judicial activism hinder a society? “You Betcha”

  4. Kathy Suhr Says:

    I live in the country and the powers that be can still dictate where and how I can build or not build on my land. Poo to them! there have been dairy’s that have moved because of the complaints of the smell because some one decided to develop next to the farm and people complaining of the noise of the navy jets because they decided to live a little to close to the field. The navy was there before their house! People have been raised to be selfish and that folks is a problem that we have created. Peace man, lets all just get along….really?

  5. Lorie Says:

    I feel his pain. We live in the suburbs and have a rod iron fence. We wanted privacy so put up wood slats (actually they are more like the Treks stuff, no maintainence). We back to 2 major roads so we wanted privacy. We got a letter from the city saying our fencing substance doesn’t meet code and needs to come down. If you drive around, there is anything from lattice to wood to vinyl to an assortment of bricks, etc. For 20 years there’s been no enforcement until now. We’re not allowed to have chickens but the people on either side of us are? We try to be self sufficient and create privacy and we get punished. Of course we are fighting it. What happened to a free world? I hate how the government regulates us to be so dependant on THEM! You GO Adam Guerrero! Way to improve the lives of those teenagers and teach them great self survival skills and to keep them out of trouble. Wish there were more like you!

  6. Mic Says:

    Just plain stupid

  7. Brogan Says:

    Control, Control, Control!!! The government doesn’t want you to be able to feed your self!! It’s all about making you dependant on the government… Let me ask you this, would you get vaccinated for a meal and a place to sleep? Would you give up any of your rights for food? Hummmm…. It would be much harder to get people to go along with an agenda if they could take care of themselves. At the very least it’s conditioning you to be submissive to “authority”!

  8. Marian Says:

    Maybe someone could complain that the court is an insult to the intelligence of the community and the Judge could spend a bit of time in the defendants chair,

  9. Kathy Says:

    I read this article yesterday. The reason why the neighbor complained is that this guy takes in a lot of compost from some local restaurants for his worm farm/compost. The neighbor claims that this is causing the rat/mouse problem in the neighborhood to get worse. What gets me about the whole deal, is that they didn’t ask him to reduce the amount of compost he takes in or the number or worm farms, they just told him to take it all out! I signed an online petition that they were going to take to the judge on Friday protesting this. I also went into Google Earth and looked at the neighborhood. It seems to be a quiet little street with smallish, older homes. Seems that these people would want to be able to grow their own food the way the economy is going.

  10. Christine Says:

    Watched a wonderful documentary yesterday…”Songs of the Revolution”…a documentary on the Civil Rights Movement…Sometimes, as one of the songs stated, we just need to “Wade in the Water”, even though there is trouble in the water. When the powers that be interfere with our God-given rights, we MUST take a stand. There will always be the ones that will concern themselves with other peoples’ business, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with them. We need to become the majority, not succumb to the will of the busybodies. If no one takes a stand, it will be that 51% that will win. We must make noise, be it with city hall, the greater local government, the state level, or all the way to the supreme court. If no noise is made, nothing will be heard. We must stand with others, be bold, be active, and be ready for adversity. Freedom is not free. We must “Wade in the Water”, even if it is cold, rapid, and uncomfortable.

  11. MattS Says:

    Along this same vein doesn’t the The Food Safety Modernization Act make it basically illegal to grow your own garden? I just recently read about this and I find it SHOCKING that the FDA has been given these powers to gevern what we eat and put on our own tables. It’s disgusting.

  12. Ronda Says:

    Why don’t they keep their noses out of people’s back yard’s & front yards for that matter. Unless they want to investigate a complaint that someone is keeping children there in the Jesse Duggard case.. now that would be a true service for the public good. I’ve never seen a garden that was a threat to innocent lives. I guess that danged sunflower just had to die for it’s crimes. lol

  13. Woody Says:

    “Along this same vein doesn’t the The Food Safety Modernization Act make it basically illegal to grow your own garden?”

    Damn! Next thing you know they’ll make it illegal to carry a gun, too. Bastards!

  14. Desertrat Says:

    All those who were involved against the Mr. Guerrero would need to double up on smarts, just to get up to “stupid”. Compost a problem? Reduce the compost. But a sunflower is not a nuisance.

    Glad I live where no building permits are needed. Nobody complains when I use the bench rest on my front porch. The only noise complaint was when I popped some dynamite when building the road up to the house, and a neighbor was upset that I didn’t tell her in time for her to watch.

    I voted with my feet a long time ago. Most cities, wrt city government, the inmates are running the asylum.

  15. Tawnya Norton Says:

    We need to take a stand NOW people. It will be so much harder later, when they have gained that much more time and power. These cases will be setting the stage for things to come, and how the Food Safety Act will be allowed to play out. WE HAVE TO STOP IT. I will feed my family. I will not give the government control over my famiy’s food, safety etc. We are losing our rights by the day, and it is continuing to get worse.

  16. bonjo Says:

    If I didn’t know better I would guess this was liberal California. I live in rural No.Calif. and keep a veggie garden growing year around. I’m on 18 acres, mostly pasture, but I do have one of those neighbors who seems to think what we do is her business. She is the neighborhood laughingstock. I do expect that sometime in the future I will be required to have a permit to have laying hens and raise a vegetable garden for my own use. I think this is a property rights issue. I pay the property taxes and as far as I’m concerned it’s no ones business what I do on my property as long as it’s not illegal and doesn’t infringe on my neighbors rights.

  17. JG Says:

    “But the city’s code enforcement department has deemed their urban garden a nuisance,” -and if his garden grew money, it wouldn’t be a nuisance it would be eminent domain.

  18. DaisyMae Says:

    This is the idiocy that begins when one starts to make rules that have no real use. Once the ball gets rolling, there is no stopping the rule makers.

  19. Angela Says:

    It’s always interesting to me when, on occasion, I see almost the exact same post being made on most of the left-leaning blogs I read as well as yours. Just food for thought — despite the ridiculous polarization of politics in this country right now, there are things we agree on.

    Around here, this kind of idiocy doesn’t seem to come up in the city so much as the suburbs. The other city folks I know are pretty much on board with urban farming, as is most of our city government. It’s smart, it’s thrifty, and it’s obviously a good thing for poor folks in places without good grocery stores to be able to get fresh, cheap food. We have city-supported initiatives to encourage this stuff, and a number of new businesses have sprung up around it and are thriving right now. It’s the snooty jerks in gated communities and similar neighborhoods in the nearby suburbs who think they ought to be able to decide the color of their neighbor’s house, whether he can have a fence or a clothesline, what he can grow, whether he can have animals ($900 squawking parrots or yapping little dogs are okay, but chickens or rabbits are OFFENSIVE, they say!) and every other thing that’s none of their damned business who make a big stink about it. They go to city council meetings and make a lot of noise because they “Didn’t move to the city to have to see anything that reminds [them] of the country, and if other people don’t like it, they should move!” and because no sane person would think he has to go defend the right to plant a sunflower, they get what they want — whether that’s out-and-out bans, ridiculous restrictions like the chicken permitting we have here, or just getting the city to harass neighbors they don’t like. From what I’ve read this one is little but a personal vendetta from a crazy neighbor, though there have been similar cases in CA and MI recently where all the neighbors were fine with the gardens and the towns went after people anyway. In at least one of those cases, though, the charges were dropped due to public outrage, so all this fuss is having some positive effect.

    There are certainly things that for the common good I shouldn’t do on my property — I shouldn’t be burning tires or beating children on my property; I shouldn’t be dumping toxic waste into the storm sewers or throwing my garbage onto the lawn for the vermin to dig through. But planting a garden? It’s not just innocuous; it’s helpful, and it’s part of our urban history. For over a quarter-century after WWII the lot next door to my home in the city had a large enough garden to supply a weekly neighborhood farmer’s market – that’s a lot of food! We have an original urban victory garden still in use in the metro area, and the remnants of former urban farms that are still being gleaned by local foragers decades after their owners moved on to other things. I have a book full of articles from newspapers all through our city’s history, dating back to its earliest years, and it’s obvious these kinds of things were part of our cities long before the perfectly-manicured-lawn types arrived with their demands for immaculately identical houses and yards.

  20. kevin m Says:

    Me thinks judge Potter is a nuisance! I am currently reading a book called “Juggernaut” by Eric Robert Morse. Backwoods home is mentioned on page 527. Realy great read! He talks of disengaging from the system, great idea!



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