Allow front yard vegetable gardens in the City of Falcon Heights (Minnesota, USA)
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On May 13, 2020 the City of Falcon Heights, a small city just north of St. Paul, MN, passed an interim ordinance (Ordinance 20-04) prohibiting the cultivation of front yard vegetable gardens. The interim ordinance was passed with little-to-no community engagement or opportunity for resident input.
The interim ordinance appears to be an action specifically targeting a local homeowner, Quentin Nguyen, who was already well-underway with an effort to convert his family's half-acre front yard into an organic vegetable garden and pollinator sanctuary. He received a letter, addressed to him personally, 24 hours after the ordinance passed. Other Falcon Heights residents with front yard vegetable gardens have reached out to Quentin to let him know they received no such letter.
The ordinance was passed mid-way through Quentin's developing his garden, with sod removed, soil and mulch delivered, and equipment and plants purchased. Due to this ordinance, the fate of his garden project now hangs in the balance.
Quentin planned this project before the COVID19 pandemic for multiple reasons, including a positive way to combat climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, create much-needed pollinator habitat, and to challenge cultural norms of green grass lawns that often involve intensive use of water, fossil fuels, and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, etc.). Gardens like these have so many eocnomic, social, and environmental benefits its hard to list them all- they raise property values, improve social sonnectedness and public safety, provide a source of fresh, healthy, culturally-appropriate food, foster biodiversity, pollinator habitat, and resilience. When COVID19 hit, his project became even more important. Food insecurity is rising around the country, people have legitimate concern to venture out, and there are few safe outdoor activities available in urban areas. What better way to address all these issues at once by planting a garden to feed and support his family, community, pollinators, and the environment?
Quentin's project fits in with a nationwide call for a return to victory Gardens, the gardens planted during World War I and II to support local food security and as an act of solidarity in difficult times. People across the country are planting gardens this year more than ever for healthy and safe physical activity, a source of fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate food, and a way to maintain balance, mental and spiritual well-being, and hope during these uncertain times.
However, to respect anyone who is concerned about using identifying with the history and meaning of 'Victory Gardens,' Quentin is simply calling the project Q's Neighbor Garden. This much more accurately captures the intended personal use and optional involvement of neighbors to benefit from the project.
In a press release and private communication the City of Falcon Heights explained the ordinance was passed due to concerns about potential social activities onsite during the pandemic. However, Quentin and all visitors are taking care to follow proper social distancing guidelines when visiting. Furthermore, with many parks and enclosed businesses open or soon to open, restricting front yard gardens on private property is unjustifiable. As its written, the ordinance says nothing about social contact, instead covering a particular area of lots (front yard) and particular types of plants (vegetables), and would prevent residents and homeowners from planting food in their front yards just to feed themselves. Is this the kind of local policymaking needed during a global pandemic?
It seems clear that the City of Falcon Heights interim ordinance was hastily developed, without public engagement, broad support, or sound factual evidence, and is not in the general interest of residents and property owners- in Falcon Heights or elsewhere. Whatever the City's concerns are, we believe they can be worked through in partnership with community in a way that does not prevent Quentin or any other front yard vegetable garden to moving forward this year.
By signing on to this petition, you will be letting the City Council members of the City of Falcon Heights, MN know that you support Quentin's project, and residents' rights to plant vegetables on their property where they choose-- back, side, or front yard. Please sign on as an act to encourage the City Council to reconsider, work together with Quentin and local residents, and move forward as quickly as possible. Two potential solutions to quickly resolve this include:
1. Extend the City of Falcon Heights recently adopted native landscaping ordinance to apply to vegetables
2. Issue a variance to Quentin's project and other Falcon Heights front yard vegetable gardens already exisiting or in development while the City does more research
Thank you for supporting Q's Victory Garden and other efforts like it around the country. We need them now more than ever!
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