Front-yard veggie gardens taking root
Proponents hope it's an idea that will grow on you
NEW YORK — Dedicated vegetable gardeners are ripping out their front lawns and planting dinner.
Their front-yard kitchen gardens, with produce ranging from vegetables to herbs and salad greens, are a source of food, a topic of conversation with the neighbors and a political statement.
Leigh Anders, who tore up about half her front lawn four years ago and planted vegetables, said her garden sends a message that anyone can grow at least some of their food. That task should shift from agribusiness back to individuals and their communities, said Anders, of Viroqua, Wis.
"This movement can start with simply one tomato plant growing in one's yard," she said.
People have been growing food in their backyards forever, but front-yard vegetable gardens are a growing outlet for people whose backyards are too shady or too small, as well as those who want to spread their beliefs one tomato at a time. Many hope their gardens will revive the notion of victory gardens, which by some estimates provided 40 percent of America's vegetables during World War II.
The topic has gotten more buzz nationally as bloggers chronicle their experiences and environmentalists have scrutinized the effects of chemicals and water used to grow lawns. A book called "Food Not Lawns," published last year, inspired several offshoot groups.
Fritz Haeg, an artist and architect, has done yards in Kansas, California and New Jersey as part of a project called "Edible Estates."
Haeg, who is working on a book due out in 2008 called "Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn," says he has been overwhelmed by the response. He gets hundreds of e-mails every month from people who want to be next.
"People are obsessed with their homes, creating these cocoons that isolate them," he said. "This project is about reaching out, getting them connected to their streets."
Some of the neighbors are less than thrilled. Some municipal codes limit the percentage of a yard that can be planted with anything other than trees and grass.
"Especially in the first three years, I got a lot of code violations," said Bob Waldrop of Oklahoma City. He planted his corner lot almost entirely with fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetables. "Now that the plantings have matured, it's pretty. It wasn't so pretty the first couple years."
Shannon McBride, 47, of Huntsville, Ala., kept grass borders around her front-yard vegetable beds. "We promised our neighbor we wouldn't grow corn, because that looks kind of tacky," she said.
An anonymous complaint about Karen Baumann's front-yard garden in Sacramento, Calif., led to a fight by local gardeners against the city's landscaping code, which stated that gardens could take up no more than 30 percent of the front yard.
After a public hearing where Baumann's 11-year-old twin sons testified while dressed as a carrot and a tomato, the city changed the law.
Some front-yard gardeners say ripping out the sod and putting in vegetables gave the neighbors their first-ever excuse to speak to them. "It's kind of like having a dog," said Nat Zappia, 32, a graduate student. "No one talked to us until we had a dog."
Zappia turned the front yard of the home he and his wife rent in Santa Monica, Calif. into a vegetable garden, with his landlord's permission. He estimates it supplies 35 percent to 40 percent of the food they eat.