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Illegal Front Yard Vegetable Gardens: Des Moines Considers Home Garden Ban

Des Moines, Iowa, gardeners may soon find themselves in hot water with their City. A local resident recently took front yard veggie growers to task for what the resident feels to be unsightly lawn growth. Beets and berries, it seems, do not have the same aesthetic appeal as a green, freshly-mowed front lawn.

The Des Moines Register did not include the lawn-loving resident’s name in their Feb. 7 report, nor has the Des Moines City Council made any decisions on whether or not a ban should be imposed on front yard gardens. The Council is expected to consider the issue in coming weeks.

Des Moines illegal garden

However, some Council members, such as Kevin Trevillyan, are reluctant to establish a ban on front yard food production because they view the move as limiting homeowners’ property rights. Trevillyan told the

Register, “I struggle with where do you draw the line on property owner rights that say here’s what you can and can’t do on your own property?”

This isn’t the first time front yard gardening in Des Moines has come under scrutiny — last fall, a City code enforcement subcommittee drafted an ordinance to ban front yard fruit and vegetable production after a different resident found these plants to be visually unappealing. Growing corn in front yards was at the center of this particular debate. Mayor Steve Gaer recommended bringing the ordinance to a meeting so all Council members could weigh in.

Garden advocates counter that front yard food production is often necessary when backyards are shaded by homes and trees, which can often be the case in older, established neighborhoods such as exist in West Des Moines. Additionally, they argue that lettuces, pea trellises and flowering vegetable plants are indeed as appealing to look at as approved ornamental lawn plants.

Des Moines gardeners are not alone in this battle. The City of Orlando, Fla., made a Jan. 15, 2013, recommendation that Orlando residents Jason and Jennifer Helvenston uproot their front yard vegetable patch or face fines of up to $500 per day. The Helvenstons have repeatedly made known that they have no intention to remove their front yard “patriot” garden or backyard chickens. The Orlando decision has not yet been finalized. Those interested in supporting the Helvenston's mission to keep front yard gardening legal can visit to order a packet of seeds and a yard sign to show support.

To speak with the City Council of Des Moines — and let them know how you feel about the right to grow food — contact Mayor Steve Gaer’s office at 515-283-4944.



[Update] Des Moines Front Yard Garden Complaint Withdrawn

On Feb. 7, 2013, KCCI Des Moines reported that Des Moines City Council is dropping plans to consider banning residents from planting fruits and vegetables in their front yards. The resident who initially took issue with front yard gardens has withdrew the complaint, and the council will not move forward. Mayor Steve Gaer said residents were concerned a ban would interfere with their rights as property owners.

Photo by Fotolia/Henryk Sadura 

 Kale Roberts is an Assistant Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. His interests include renewable energy, real food and sustainable rural development. You can find him on .