Not All Communities Welcome Urban Gardening
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Urban gardening is growing around the country. Even the Obamas plowed up some of the White House lawn to grow vegetables. But a small, upper-middle-class suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin seems to be struggling with the concept. The issue surfaced after one family yard in Shorewood planted vegetables in their front yard. Now officials are fighting with homeowners about where crops can be grown. Susan Bence from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports.
SUSAN BENCE: It seemed harmless enough. Naomi and David Cobb, who live in the sedate village just west of Lake Michigan, wanted to plant a vegetable patch and chose the sunniest location: the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street that locals call the parkway. They point out swatches of cilantro, peppers and eggplant thriving in the six-by-eight foot cedar-framed bed. This small garden has also sprouted lots of attention.
Ms. NAOMI COBB: People who walk their dogs stop and give us a thumbs up. Lots of that.
Mr. DAVID COBB: Lots of people come by - this is great what you're doing. It looks wonderful. I love the way your garden looks. I mean, even a friend of mine, his brother lives in Seattle sent in a letter to us with what they're doing out in Seattle.
BENCE: In Seattle, officials encourage residents to plant veggies in parkways. Naomi Cobb says if Seattle residents can do it, why not Shorewood residents?
Ms. COBB: You don't want to plant in a way that would get in the way of the utilities. You can't plant too close to the street so that it's in the way for shoveling or for car door opening. But other than that, I think it's very doable.
BENCE: But reaction from village officials was swift and negative. The couple got a call and a letter stating they'd violated the no planting in parkways ordinance. But if you glance up and down the Cobb's street, a tall bush here, a cluster of hostas there, it seems most residents aren't aware of this restriction.
The Cobbs went to the village trustees, hoping to win them over. Let's just say it didn't go well. If you follow the ordinances in Shorewood and want to grown anything four inches or taller in your front yard, edible or decorative, you need permission.
Dawn Anderson didn't know about the rule. Through the years, she blissfully built up a sea of perennial flowers and plantings in her front yard. She's a bit embarrassed, because not only has she lived here for 23 years, she's also a village trustee.
Ms. DAWN ANDERSON (Trustee, Shorewood): We haven't been consistent in the village, so now we have to be consistent with this. So we'll have to come up with a compromise that everybody's happy with and be consistent with it.
BENCE: Anderson says part of the challenge is that old school Shorewood is bumping up against more and more homeowners who take sustainability more seriously than they do turf. Gretchen Mead is among them. She's joined the band wagon to try to shake up Shorewood's way of thinking.
Ms. GRETCHEN MEAD: I want people to grow food in any way they can and to be sustainable in any way they can, to create biodiversity, to protect the environment in any way they can. And utilizing the parkways is one piece of that.
BENCE: Mead's bumper crop of cabbages, carrots, beets and a steady supply of collards and chard consumer her front yard.
Ms. MEAD: Every year, I get more and more feedback about how many people love it and wish that they were doing the same thing.
BENCE: Roger Doiron heads Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit that promotes gardening and local food. He says growing vegetables at home was once considered quaint and old-fashioned, but not anymore.
Mr. ROGER DOIRON (Director, Kitchen Gardeners International): In many cases, individuals and families are a little bit ahead of the policymakers in terms of understanding just how important this is.
BENCE: Doiron predicts gardens are going to sprout up in spots many would never have considered, places considerably more exotic than Naomi and David Cobb's parkway in Shorewood, Wisconsin.
For NPR News, I'm Susan Bence in Milwaukee.