Childhood Obesity and the Crime of Growing Food

Gardening is not a crime

It’s hard to argue against the usefulness of home gardens in fighting obesity among children and adults alike. Fresh garden produce does not contain goop like high fructose corn syrup or MSG, or other additives that can lead to unhealthy overeating and eventually to food addiction. When kids take part in the growing of food at home or at school, they’re getting fresh air, exercise, and something to eat that will not cause them to bloat up into blimps.

The renewed interest in growing food has implications for water and energy conservation, water quality, economic benefits for a family budget, community cohesion, and good old-fashioned American know-how and self-sufficiency. Why, then, are citizens who grow carrots treated as if they were establishing cocaine plantations?

In the fall of 2010, news swept the country issuing from the normally rather quiet Georgia county of DeKalb. A man named Steve Miller was growing vegetables on his own land, selling some at a farmers’ market, and giving some away, just like he had been doing for the previous 15 years. The law swooped down on him. First, they made him stop growing vegetables until the property was rezoned. Then, they went after him retroactively, for niggling technical violations they said had been committed before the rezoning. In a burst of bureaucratic overreach the neighbors called “Cabbagegate,” they wanted to fine him $5,000.

Just a couple of weeks ago, small-scale farmers in a town near St. Paul, MN, caught a break when the town officials decided to let them keep growing vegetables without penalty by rescinding a potentially devastating ordinance. Mary Divine tell us:

The ordinance had called for property owners to apply for a permit for plots larger than 5 acres, prohibited activity from a half hour after sunset until 7 a.m., required on-site toilets and stipulated buildings must be constructed according to code and removed during winter.

A nonprofit called the Farmers’ Legal Action Group helped out with legal services and convinced the bureaucrats of such common-sense facts as the farmers’ need to get started a lot earlier than 7:00 in the morning, in order to avoid having to work during the hottest part of the day. There is also a question of why a $1,200 permit should be needed to raise garden vegetables, but not for industrial-scale corn or soybean crops.

For Julie Bass of Oak Park, MI, the fun continues. She is now an activist, and more than 26,000 people have “liked” her Facebook page, Oak Park Hates Veggies. Here is how writer Kim I. Hartman describes the situation:

Julie decided to grow a vegetable garden to be able to feed her family quality organic vegetables while giving the neighborhood children something interesting to look at instead of a grassy lawn. She had five large vegetable planter boxes built in the area and filled them with herbs, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers and more. While most neighbors seemed to enjoy the new garden, a few didn’t and neither did city code enforcement officers who soon arrived to give the homeowners a warning to remove the vegetable garden or face a ticket from the city for not planting ‘suitable’ plants.

Bass has composed an “Open Letter” designed to be circulated to as many people as possible. It’s really worth reading the whole thing. She says:

In June of 2011 I faced a 93 day jail sentence for growing vegetables in my front yard… There was nothing in the municipal code that prohibited growing vegetables in the front yard, nor was there anything, unsightly or even vaguely menacing. Yet I was charged with a misdemeanor.

Bass won her particular battle, but has taken up the fight on behalf of other heinous criminals who dare to grow food. She gives examples:

Memphis high school teacher Adam Guerrero was ordered to dismantle a similar garden… Karl Tricamo of Ferguson, Missouri was ordered to tear up his front yard garden in spite of the fact that it clearly violated no zoning ordinance… Karl won his fight too, but the city is planning to retaliate by drafting new and stricter gardening ordinances that will prevent him from continuing to plant in the future… Denise Morrison in Tulsa, Oklahoma […] was cited by her city for violating their zoning ordinances. And while her case was pending, before she had her hearing, city workers came and razed her garden. That’s right. No due process. no fair trial. All because some local bureaucrats wouldn’t tolerate one woman growing some of her own food.

Photo Note:
This is what photographer “Roger” says about the graphic at the top of the page:

While the mugshot on the left is fake, the story on the right is unfortunately real. It’s hard to believe that as America’s ‘First Mom’ is leading the way to a healthier future through vegetable gardening another American mom potentially faces jail time for following her example.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “County Sues Farmer, Cites Too Many Crops,”, 09/13/10
Source: “May Township rescinds disputed ordinance on garden plots,”, 09/06/12
Source: “Woman faces jail time for planting vegetable garden in front yard,” Digital Journal, 07/09/11
Source: “Open Letter From Oak Park Hates Veggies,”, 08/08/12
Image by KGI.ORG (Roger).

4 Responses

  1. “Why, then, are citizens who grow carrots treated as if they were establishing cocaine plantations?” — This comment gave me a chuckle.

    In all seriousness, aside from the many positive aspects of gardening you already pointed out, a garden is an excellent teaching tool. If we as a society appreciated and valued the work that goes into food production we wouldn’t be so quick to dispose of nearly half (40%!) of our food. (See:

    I’ve been following a blog about a woman growing food with and for her family on a budget of $100 a month. Yes, there are upfront costs, but still, it is inspiring:

    Can you imagine how this might change the childhood obesity epidemic if more people were gardening?

  2. In a way these people, those oppressed by municipal government(s), deserve the treatment they got from their so-called elected representatives. Why? Because for the most part they probably believed they are free; that those of us who wave the flags of resistance to over-extended, and abusive government regulation(s) are viewed as whackos. WELL, now they know just how EXTREME government, which is to serve the people, REALLY is. Welcome to an Amerika that didn’t exist just 30 or so years ago.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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