Falcon Heights homeowner Quentin Nguyen had dreams of cultivating a large garden in his front yard, one where neighbors could grow vegetables and build community spirit.
But just days after he tore out the turf on the street side of his two-thirds-acre lot, he got a letter from a Falcon Heights city official saying that the City Council had just prohibited vegetable gardens in front yards. His project needed to stop.
“Who in the world would think that to grow food in your own yard you needed permission?” Nguyen, 24, said Wednesday. “Especially with the pandemic, we all realize how dependent we are on the market for food.”
The Falcon Heights council passed an interim ordinance last week barring such front yard gardens for up to a year, to give city staffers time to “research garden standards in other communities and provide information regarding official controls.” City Administrator Sack Thongvanh told the council that the yearlong process will ensure that neighbors’ rights are considered.
But Nguyen said he feels targeted and questions the legality of the city’s move because he started work on his garden before the ordinance passed. Still, he is hopeful that he and city officials can reach a compromise this growing season.
He’s already created a Facebook group, brainstormed with neighbors, collected seeds and spent more than $1,000 on soil and mulch. If he’s not successful, he said he may plant flowers, native plants and pollinator-friendly flora — all explicitly allowed by city ordinance.
Nguyen, who works as a host at a local casino, said he didn’t put his garden out front as a matter of defiance. Rather, he said, gardening is his passion and he wants to put his large property to good use: Let children get their hands dirty, teach people about farm-to-table, help neighbors serve up healthy meals.
And logistically, he said, his front yard is just better suited for veggies. It’s larger and it gets more sun than the back.
“This is a good space for a garden,” said Nguyen, shovel in hand.
Falcon Heights Mayor Randy Gustafson said Wednesday that the city has always banned front yard vegetable gardens. City code written in the 1950s explicitly requires turf grass, trees and shrubs in the front yard, the mayor said.
“I don’t know why they put that into city code in the 1950s,” Gustafson said.
Even so, at the May 13 council meeting, Gustafson said he was worried there were not explicit rules and regulations regarding front yard vegetable gardens.
“We found the need, before it becomes a problem, to nip it in the bud,” Gustafson said before the council voted unanimously to temporarily prohibit front yard vegetable gardens.
The mayor said Wednesday that he’s open to changing city code once the issue is researched, there’s a healthy public discussion and the city can ensure that such gardens don’t become large commercial enterprises in the middle of quiet neighborhoods. Gustafson noted that officials used the correct process to tweak the ordinance in the last year to allow for native plantings.
Nguyen has been outspoken about his thwarted dreams of having a neighborhood garden, and many have rallied to his side. More than 5,000 people signed an online petition to back him. A supporter stopped by his home on Wednesday to drop off a $20 donation to Nguyen, who was working in the yard.
“This is a complete overreach of power,” wrote one supporter. “A vegetable garden on your own property is the last thing we need to be banning.”