New front-yard vegetable gardens are sprouting up all over, and gardeners are finding themselves championing causes beyond fresh broccoli and sun-ripened tomatoes. Josée Landry and Michel Beauchamp of Drummondville, Quebec, ripped out their lawn to install a stylish raised-bed garden in their front yard last year and landed themselves in an international controversy. The couple took on vegetable gardening as a mid-life project, with the intention of eating healthier food and losing some weight, but in the midst of a pleasant summer of home-grown bounty they were told that city codes required 30 percent grass out front, and that they must reduce the size of their garden or pay substantial fines.
Kitchen Gardeners International (now SeedMoney.org) took up the couple’s cause with a petition that received thousands of signatures and made an appropriately big impression on the local city council. Change is coming. Landry and Beauchamp were allowed to keep their garden, and, with their help (and KGI’s), local laws restricting front-yard gardens are being rewritten.
“A vegetable garden is not part of the problem, it’s part of the solution,” Landry says, sharing the philosophy of KGI. In the world today, “we face so many different problems: environmental, social, economic. For us, agriculture is a small gesture that — if it is followed by a lot of people — it can change the way we live.”
As they cultivated their beets and beans, the two first-time gardeners discovered a world-wide community of helpful and supportive individuals and organizations. They started a blog, established a Facebook page, and they’re working with collaborators on a free e-book (it is in French) to help and encourage other vegetable gardeners, sharing their story and as much gardening advice as they can.
This year, they’re expanding the garden, adding one more raised bed. They’re planning to grow all their crops from organic seeds and to install rain barrels. Beauchamp would like to plant fruit trees in the back yard; he is also considering beekeeping. “This year, we’ll play with the colors and the textures in the garden,” Landry says. “We’re very excited for the next season.”
Success stories like Landry’s and Beauchamp’s are encouraging, but front-yard vegetable gardens are still pretty much on the fringe. More front-yard food-garden conflicts are inevitable, because “there are more people putting outdated land-use codes to the test, and that’s a good thing,” says Roger Dorion, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, which is based in Maine. “Many of the local officials who are fighting against updating their front-yard codes don’t understand the new social and environmental realities of the 21st century.”
Front-yard vegetable gardens start conversations, bring neighbors together, and advance the cause of local, small-scale vegetable gardening, Dorion says. “Gardening has the power to reconnect us with the sun, the soil, the seasons, and ourselves.”
In January, when temperatures in Drummondville were well below zero, Landry and Beauchamp were still eating preserved, canned, and stored vegetables from their summer garden, and savoring their new passion for urban agriculture. “We can say it was the most beautiful summer of our lives,” Landry says. “We hope this year will be as good as the last one.”
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Marty Ross is a garden journalist and gardener who lives in Kansas City, MO, and Virginia’s Tidewater region. She has a community garden plot and grows lettuce and herbs in pots on her front porch.