PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A Peoria woman’s beloved backyard garden was razed by the city while she was away on vacation.
Abigail Larrison has been building a community garden for five years as a way to fight food insecurity in the area. She went on vacation on July 11 for two weeks. When she returned, a code enforcement notice dated July 12 was on her door, citing tall grass and weeds.
“I didn’t have anyone contact me. I had no idea until I came home and saw that everything was missing,” said Larrison.
Larrison said her garden was completely gone; blueberry bushes, rose bushes, vegetables and herbs, were reduced to almost nothing. She estimates her loss at around $1,000.
“I literally fell to my knees. It’s still really hard to be back here,” she said. “To me, this was becoming a little wonderland for kids to come back and experience nature, which is extremely powerful and healing.”
Larrison admits her garden was quirky and looked overgrown. She is a big proponent of sustainable permaculture, working with nature and native plants, as opposed to planting monoculture seeds prevalent in most farms. Despite the unconventional garden, she said the city should have been more careful.
“It was pretty wild, I fully agree. But when I came home and the rose bushes were demolished and the blueberry trees, which were laden with blueberries. This I don’t understand, because there is no way to mistake that for weeds,” she said.
Director of Community Development Joe Dulin said rules are rules. Once the city issues a violation, the homeowner has five days to reply before the city sends code enforcement to the property.
“In our code, even if you have a garden, it has to be maintained…It’s not like they cut down everything they saw at the property. They really tried to focus on the tall grass and weeds that look like specifically weren’t being maintained,” he said.
Larrison said much more than weeds and grass were cut down.
“It makes absolutely no sense to me that you can’t distinguish between a weed and a blueberry bush that’s full of blueberries,” she said. “
Dulin said he has reached out to Larrison, and hopes she will communicate with the city with future plans.
“We want to work with her, people who have projects like this. But we have to balance this unique situation. It’s a very delicate balance when things like this come up,” he said.
Larrison said she plans to till the backyard and plant wildflowers. She hopes changes are made to code enforcement policy in terms of communication.
“My hope is that there will be some kind of awareness that when you go into someone’s space… There should be some change in policy to make sure the homeowner is contacted. It’s just not okay to come in and destroy people’s property and then say sorry we sent you a notice,” she said.