Concerned Falcon Heights neighbors narc on community garden plans

Quentin Nguyen's Falcon Heights yard is all dressed up with nowhere to go, thanks to an ordinance passed by the city last week.

Quentin Nguyen's Falcon Heights yard is all dressed up with nowhere to go, thanks to an ordinance passed by the city last week. Quentin Nguyen

Quentin Nguyen of Falcon Heights has, by his own description, a “huge” front yard on Snelling Avenue. So huge, he thought it could be put to better use than just growing turf grass.

Nguyen came up with an idea last fall and put it up on in April—fittingly, on Earth Day. He wanted to build and maintain a residential community garden right in front of his house.

“What else could be better [than] to have a group of near and far neighbors/gardeners [pitch] in some work together to grow vegetables for some healthy food during our Minnesota summer?” he wrote. Neighbors could work together, everyone could have more fresh veggies, and kids could learn a little about where food comes from.

Nguyen set out to raise some money to buy compost, topsoil, mulch, gardening tools, and water they could all use for a 0.08-acre space. By and large, people thought it was a great idea. The goal was $800, and the page had raised $641 by Tuesday afternoon.

When May rolled around, he broke ground, ripped up all his sod, and got mulch and soil delivered. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Then, on Wednesday, the Falcon Heights City Council passed a temporary ordinance banning gardens in front yards. Nguyen got a brief letter informing him that front yard vegetable gardens were, quite suddenly, against city code.

“I was shocked,” he says. He felt personally attacked—that this ordinance was targeting him specifically. It’s his property, he says. He should be able to do what he wants with it. And besides: “What does a vegetable garden harm?” 

City Administrator Sack Thongvanh says Nguyen's garden project was, in fact, the instigating factor for this ordinance. A “handful” of residents had called to ask about it, he says, mostly wondering if the city knew about it, and to ask whether it was actually allowed.

The point of the ordinance is to give the city council and staff enough time to ponder that question, Thongvanh says. The city currently has its own community garden, with 20 plots or so, and during the growing season, it can generate a lot of traffic.

“If this [garden] is allowed in the front yard, at this volume, the traffic would affect nearby property owners,” he says. That’s the sort of thing the city planning and environmental commissions want to consider before giving this a green light.

After various city bodies pass this around, there will be a public hearing on the subject, and friends and neighbors will get their say on whether front yard gardens should be allowed. Thongvanh expects this to move “pretty quickly.” A similar ordinance the city passed a few years ago allows the cultivation of native plants in front yards.

Thongvanh says he hopes the city hear from Nguyen throughout the process, and Nguyen says he’s willing to work with them. No doubt his friends and supporters will have things to say about it, too. A petition posted Monday night has already amassed more than 2,000 signatures asking the city to allow front yard vegetable gardens.

Nguyen kind of wishes they didn’t have to go through all this trouble.

“They don’t have to make this harder on me and others,” he says. “If we can grow native flowers, we should be able to grow vegetables as well. It’s not just about my garden. It’s about all of Falcon Heights.”

His yard is still clear, and the soil is still waiting. Nguyen says he’s not about to break city code, but he does have plans. He'll have to wait for them to bloom.