Sometimes we country folks take for granted the right to grow vegetables and having enough space to do so. A recent trip to St. Paul, Minn., reminded me that not everyone can just plop a row of tomato plants in the ground.
Those ingenious Minnesotans, however, found ways to grow their own fresh veggies right smack in the middle of a big, bustling city.
At first, as I strolled around the residential neighborhood near St. Catherine University, I didn’t realize what I was seeing. After all, we are so accustomed to only flowers and decorative greenery lining sidewalks that I almost missed noticing the zucchini and raspberries growing there.
On the 10-block walk to a wonderful used book store, I encountered enough incognito front-yard vegetable gardens to warrant going back to my daughter’s apartment for my camera. I saw squash of all sorts, assorted greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, chard, rhubarb (which grows to positively monstrous sizes in the North Country), herbs, onions, peas, beans and beets. I suspect now that some of those sunflowers and nasturtium were doing more than beautifying lawns.
Not only were the undercover edibles rooted discreetly in pots and window boxes, they were openly growing in the grassy strip between the sidewalk and street. This is especially pleasing to us who have followed Mother Earth News’ shocking forbidden food-growing stories. Here is a list of “illegal garden” news compiled by Mother Earth News staff.
In 2013, Mother Earth News assistant editor Kale Roberts wrote of two Des Moines, Iowa, residents complaining to the city council about separate front-yard vegetable gardens. Beginning in 2012, Roberts wrote of Jason and Jennifer Helvenston, an Orlando, Fla., couple facing fines of $500 per day for growing vegetables where grass “should have been.” In both instances, thanks in part to heavy public pressure, the issues were eventually dropped.
As I wandered about St. Paul taking photos, I encountered one yard completely devoid of lawn. The entire front yard along busy Randolph Avenue is a perennial wildflower garden without a blade of grass to mow or water. Wildflowers are naturally more drought resistant than domesticated grasses.
At another front yard alive with all manner of vegetables, the homeowners were, of course, sitting on their front step. Where else? Before I even had a chance to tell them what I was up to with my camera, they invited me over for a chat. Nearly every square inch was filled with delicious-looking fruit and vegetables. Only one slim grassy path cuts across the front yard ― as a convenience for the mailman, they said.
When I asked how it all started, the friendly couple said they bought the house 10 years ago and nonchalantly planted a row of red raspberry bushes along one side. When no one complained about that, they kept adding more growing beds each year. Rather than protesting, their neighbors admire and frequently thank them for their lovely gardens.
The couple said they are unaware of city ordinances prohibiting front-yard vegetable gardens, but have not asked “just in case.” Based on the number of up-front kitchen gardens I saw on my short walk, I guessed St. Paul encourages residents to plant “patriot gardens.” I was correct, later finding a Twin Cities Boulevard Gardening Guide prepared by Sustainable Resources Center’s Urban Lands Program that addresses how to properly plant along Minneapolis and St. Paul streets.
Even businesses got in on the movement. I found herbs growing outside a dentist office, yoga academy and therapeutic massage studio. Beside one apartment building, a resident planted peppers, squash and cucumbers in hay bales. Nearby, Swiss chard and kale grew in flower pots. All the plants were lively and producing fruit.
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