The Hippies vs. Code Enforcement

When a tiny hippie co-op refused to clean up its yard, the city of Arlington came down hard -- and brought the SWAT team with it.

Inside, the kitchen always smells like basil. Baskets of okra, tomatoes and apples sit on the counter, and people are often snacking on tomatoes, honeydew, hummus and chips. The living room is clean but chaotic, with legal books piled on shelves and what looks a lot like a clothing store in the living room. Quinn insists that it's not an actual store, just a place that's happy to accept money for clothing if people would like to pay him for it. "We're not a business," he says.

"We have a lot of projects going on here," Shellie says, and that, for some people anyway, is the problem. "It wasn't until we decided we were going to cultivate this and turn it into sustainable property, and really share what we do with the outside world, it wasn't until then that really the issues started coming in."

It all began with a notice in the mail in January: "Please mow/cut overgrown grass on the entire property," wrote Curtis Jones, a code compliance officer for the city of Arlington.

Shellie's kids are grown, but she's getting a second turn with Quinn and Inok's two daughters.
Mark Graham
Shellie's kids are grown, but she's getting a second turn with Quinn and Inok's two daughters.
There's a chicken coop, naturally.
Mark Graham
There's a chicken coop, naturally.

Details

Then another came: "Please remove all indoor furniture that is located outside in the rear of the property, and is being exposed to the weather."

Then another: "Please remove the pile of tires, wood, old pianos, wood pallets, junk, large plastic drums ... rubbish and debris located in the front and rear of the property."

Shellie heeded none of them. She was especially adamant about not mowing her grass in the front yard; tall grass is necessary to keep the crops cool year-round. That's how permaculture works.

"We're not going around to other people's houses and saying, 'Hey, that grass that you're growing there, all those chemicals you're putting on it, is destroying the world,'" Quinn says. "'All that petroleum you're using to mow that piece of shit is destroying the world."

So they fought back. Shellie sent letters to the city, accusing it of violating her constitutional rights. But the city was not interested in debating the particulars of the Constitution. This was strictly about the nuisance ordinance in the city of Arlington. And the Garden of Eden was about to see what happens to people who do not abide by their nuisance violations.

That happened on August 2, at around 7:30 a.m. Quinn woke up early that day, so he was already up when he looked out the window and saw them — a swarm of SWAT officers, more than he could count, descending on their Eden, guns and handcuffs in tow.


Year-round produce from across the world, freshly cut and watered lawns, even toilet paper: The trappings of modern life, it turns out, aren't especially friendly to the environment. Across the United States, more people are realizing this and starting to try other approaches with their groceries, their homes and their yards.

Many are finding their local governments slow to understand their progressive ways. Homeowners' associations have sued residents for installing solar panels. Cities limit how tall grass can be. And even during a historic drought, cities cite residents for letting their lawns go dry — or, in the case of one East Dallas horticulturist, for upsetting his neighborhood's historic aesthetics by tearing up his lawn in favor of rocks and cacti.

Locally grown food, meanwhile, has brought on its own series of legal headaches.

"The regulatory system isn't favorable to that type of commerce. There are just a lot of barriers to entry to small farmers trying to sell their products directly to consumers," says Pete Kennedy, an attorney at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

In 2011, a SWAT team raided the Rawesome food co-op in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles. The offense: The co-op was selling unpasteurized milk, which some people argue is healthier than regular milk. The officers dumped the milk out.

The Garden of Eden denies that it sells food; they say they give it away during workshops. And it's not a traditional suburban area, though the surrounding streets are slowly becoming more developed like the rest of Arlington. Regardless, in the city's view, the permaculture garden and the rest of its projects have lowered property values and harmed nearby residents.

Shellie, dressed in a purple sweater from a thrift store, with an eagle feather earring in just one ear, didn't used to think of herself as a hippie. She grew up in the mountains of Colorado, where a sustainable lifestyle was necessary for survival. "I didn't have running water, because it wasn't super accessible. We had wells," she says.

Back when she was still married, her tomatoes died in the summer because there wasn't tall grass to shade them. She mowed the lawn back then.

"My neighbors now spend many, many hours, many hours a week on their mower, just going back and forth. And the next week, it looks the same," Shellie says, sitting on one of the illegal chairs in her backyard. "And they do it again. And I always knew that I always wanted to let it grow, and my husband didn't want to let it grow. So it was a really great opportunity when I divorced to actually try something else."

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25 comments
ladypegasus
ladypegasus

This is the same city that forced me out and sent my neighbor to an old folks home (she had lived in her home for 30 years) because they wanted a new road. 

Funny thing, the Nature Center in Fort Worth now uses composting toilets just like the ones at the Garden of Eden. Unlike Arlington, Fort Worth is proud of this natural upgrade.

mcdallas
mcdallas

Two wrongs don't make a right.

jedivaza
jedivaza

I have never understood how most "civilized" people can be so judgmental, materialistic, nosy, arrogant, and afraid of things and people who are different,  I bet most of the psychopaths today grew up in proper neighborhoods with flushing toilets and eating processed foods from the grocery store - following "the rules" - until they explode,.  Try living your own life and let others live theirs.  I bet there is more joy amongst those "hippies" than all of the surrounding neighbors and less sexual abuse, alcohol, drugs, greed, gluttony, theft, etc.

babsandbernard
babsandbernard

No weed. Apparently no dog to gun down. Bad day for Arlington's finest.

loridschlitz
loridschlitz

In a way I kind of envy them. I've lived in a large metropolitan city my whole life. It would be nice to live as they do and I often think about doing just that. I think I would be a little more organized .. but, growing your own food, etc. sounds wonderful. 

oledriller
oledriller

Great article Amy! Yes, I am a ultra right winger! Burnt out old hippie? No.  But guess what? I support everything these folks are doing. Get the government out of our lives. Let them live the way they want to. Are the children doing fine? Are they being abused in any way?  No spousal er partner abuse? Is everyone happy? If not then leave these people the hell alone! Unfortunately, that won't happen in todays new Left wing Libtard Society. Its all about forced dependence on the Nanny State. Just wait over the next ten years. You ain't seen nothing yet! 

EdCota
EdCota

God, I feel sorry for Shellie's adult children. You try to go home to visit your mom and she's living with some polygamous blowhard who's your age, looks a whole lot like Capt. Jack Sparrow, and wears his pants low enough to where you can see his pubes.  The jerkoff has moved his common-law other wife into your bedroom and is letting some of his weirdo friends live in vans and half submerged suburbans in the yard.  When you need to go to the bathroom you have to crap in a glorified bucket and wipe your butt with sawdust.  Then at the dinner table,  you have to listen to him ramble on about half baked ideas concerning his constitutional right to poop in said bucket.  At least the food is uber dank, though.

I bet the kids were the ones that called in the SWAT team.  I know I would.  Do you think Quinn would still be with Shellie if she didn't own that property?

Josepha
Josepha

SWAT figured there had to be at least one illegal seed to justify their puny existence and waving of their tiny reproductive organs.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Cougar got her some hot, young Svengali and the other hags in the hood are jealous?

ChangingF8
ChangingF8

I live in the country, my neighbors moved in and immediately put a goat pen in their front yard. Did I complain about it? No, because I live in the country where we can do what we want with our land for the most part. Cities have to protect property values. If all the neighbors around this House moved out and no one else would buy the houses because of the jungle house then what is that doing to their values? Tax Base? This really needs to be moved out to the country somewhere. You live in a City, you go by that cities rules.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

I still bet that if you dig deep enough into this, there is a developer or someone in power who wants their property.

Now, I also say that they handled their issues with the city poorly. I have permaculture aspects added to my property, but I called the city code compliance and cleared what I was planning first. As to the composting toilets, I've seen that as a solution for people in REALLY rural areas. But, not when you have a sewer line.

MattKi
MattKi

I'm pretty sure this is Kennedale, not Arlington.

scerinjen3
scerinjen3

Please know I'm not being a troll when I say 'Go City of Arlington!' I feel sorry for the neighbors of these people.  Property owners pay a premium for some degree of  protection and insulation when they choose to live in certain areas.  I have thanked my city code enforcement many times for removing violations.   

If a person wants to try this kind of cultural experiment (?) sell the land and move out to some rural location where there are no zones or rules and get as freaky as you want.  Also - I just don't like hippies.

EdCota
EdCota

@bvckvs Good point about burying the car.  How are they sure the car was properly drained of fluids and anything else that could contaminate the ground?  When the next owner figures out that some hippies buried a truck to make a cave, he's going to look at the old owners for environmental remediation.  Fortunately for Quinn, his name name won't be on the chain of title, just Shellie's.  And her ex-husband's.

Rather than a story about police heavy-handedness, this reads to me like a story of a divorcee getting taken advantage of by some aspiring cult-leader who's been enabled and encouraged his whole life by his fruitcake parents and the Dallas Observer.

mcdallas
mcdallas

@MattKi "I'm pretty sure this is Kennedale, not Arlington" = I have no clue what I'm talking about but I feel like I need to make some sort of comment.

It's called Google.  You should try it sometime.

ladypegasus
ladypegasus

@scerinjen3 This was a rural area outside the city when the owner first moved there. In a way they are being punished because the city has grown over them. What you are saying is that,even if you start out in the country, you have to move away if the city expands to take in your land. That is the sad but true problem. Soon there will be no place left to go where the city cannot control everything you do. My family had to leave our farm for the same reason, and the beautiful dairy farm next door is now a parking lot. Neither were originally in the city, but once they were, the city made life hell for everyone until we left.

thomas.rocha.cp
thomas.rocha.cp

@scerinjen3 Why can't you sell your house and move to an HOA where everyone signs their contract knowing that they have certain upkeep requirements? Because it's a hassle, right, and you should be able to live in peace where you are. People that like their grass longer than yours are not lazy, or trying to attack you with their grass. They just want to live their lives in a way that makes them happy, and not be bothered.

oledriller
oledriller

@thomas.rocha.cp @scerinjen3 Amen brother! I live on the largest non-territorial jurisdiction in N. Texas. Down a one mile private road on 3800 acres with six family farms surrounded by property hungry cities. We have our own trash service, coop electricity, our own internet service and private water. We homeschool our kids, ride horses, hunt, fish and have parties every weekend. We  build what we want without have to deal with stupid inner city municipal codes and libtard homeowners associations. And most important we do not depend on anything from the government. Thank God that because of Gov Perry we now cannot be annexed without a unanimous vote from fellow homeowners.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@thomas.rocha.cp @scerinjen3 then move to rural area where your unkempt lawn and property will make you happy while not bothering others.  You cool with your neighbor just having a hippie living in a van in the front yard?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@thomas.rocha.cp @scerinjen3 there is a big difference, did the city issuing code violations not show you that?  You can grow your grass however you want as long as you follow code, I must do the same.  Dont like it, leave the fucking city.  pretty simple if you ask me

thomas.rocha.cp
thomas.rocha.cp

@ScottsMerkin @thomas.rocha.cp @scerinjen3 There is a difference between unkept and kept in a manner you don't agree with. There is also the fact, mentioned in the article, that this area, while in the middle of an urban area, is not exactly urban. I've been down this particular stretch of road before, and it's almost like being back home in East Texas. The houses are far enough apart that it's a stretch to say that something in your yard is bothering one of your neighbors in their yard.

As to the hippie in a van, well, I don't really care what someone's personal views are, or what they live in, or even how often they bathe. The only thing I care about is that they let me live my life in peace. I'd would certainly prefer to have some self-described "dirty hippie" living next to me than a "good ole boy" who called the city every time there was a stalk of bahiagrass in my yard.

 
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