Monday, July 11, 2011

City Prosecutes Family for Growing Vegetables

Eshes chayil mi yimtza?

A frum family in Oak Park, MI is being persecuted by their city government for planting a vegetable garden in their front yard.

They have set up a blog at and a Facebook group titled Oak Park Hates Veggies.

The poem Eshes Chayil (from Mishlei) comes to mind because one of the themes of Eshes Chayil is that a woman is praised who knows how to appraise a field for agriculture and knows how to produce the finest food from it. In this case, the matriarch of the Oak Park family, Julie Bass, decided to put in a vegetable garden after her front yard was destroyed after some sewage work.

To take a step back for a moment, am I wrong in my understanding that every Shabbos, when we sing Eshes Chayil, we are not indeed praising women and encouraging them to embody these praises ("She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard")? I know it is also a metaphor, but Torah never leaves the p'shat.

There is a common thread here and in Koheles 5:8 where Shlomo Hamelech judges just about every earthly pursuit to be vanity and futility, except, he writes, "The advantage of land is supreme; even a king is indebted to the soil," by which he means that agriculture is one of the highest pursuits since every person, even a king, cannot survive without food.

Even though one of the greatest kings and thinkers of world history (as well as, lehavdil, many, many other great thinkers) thought that agriculture is one of the highest pursuits, it has largely fallen out of favor among frum Jews (and many in Western society) in favor of more rarefied pursuits like lawyering and accounting, or any other job which involves as little physical labor as possible and as much income as possible, without regard to whether or not said pursuit benefits humanity. Not that lawyering is bad, but a Jewish mother should be just as proud to say that her son became an organic farmer as to say he became a lawyer. But I digress.

The Oak Park city officials have used lies and deception to try to win their case, while Ms. Bass has made every effort to be a good and honest citizen. The very fact that a city would persecute a family for growing food in their yard rather than resource-hogging, useless grass or ornamental shrubs is madness.

It is very heartening for me to see a frum family fighting to grow food in their front yard and I wish the Bass family hatzlacha rabba in fighting the city of Oak Park. I hope that they will be an inspiration to frum yidden all over the world and to people in suburbs across the United States.