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Appeals court overturns conviction, fines against urban farmer

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    Urban farmer Thomas Jackson stands on his tilled lots at 1505 Milburn Ave. in Toledo.

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    Thomas Jackson, right, with his attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, listens to Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell tell him he's not cooperating with the city of Toledo regarding public nuisance charges.

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A Toledo urban farmer’s conviction and fines for failure to abate a nuisance were overturned Friday on appeal.

n7farmer-1

Urban farmer Thomas Jackson stands on his tilled lots at 1505 Milburn Ave. in Toledo.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Thomas Jackson was ordered June 7, 2017, in Toledo Municipal Court to pay $3,000 in fines after he was convicted for failure to abate what the city considered nuisances at lots at 1446 Macomber St., 1505 Milburn Ave., and 2325 Swiler Drive.

Mr. Jackson said he was composting on the properties to improve the soil quality so that he could grow produce there. Neighbors complained wood-chip piles were unsightly, smelled, and attracted rodents.

But the Sixth District Court of Appeals of Ohio ruled Friday that the city did not prove Mr. Jackson was not attempting to abate the alleged nuisance.

“We find the testimony presented by appellee did not contain sufficient evidence to support a finding that appellant did not abate the nuisance condition on the properties,” the court ruled. “The neighbors’ testimonies were oftentimes confusing, through no fault of their own, and in some instances were contradictory.”

Mr. Jackson, who was out of town Friday and learned about the court’s ruling from a Blade reporter, was ecstatic when the decision was relayed to him over the phone.

He said he grew 4,600 plants on his properties last year and harvested 9,200 pounds of produce. The largest crop was collard greens, and he said he sold 2,800 pounds to a local restaurant, and donated thousands of pounds of produce to people in the neighborhood and schools.

This year, he’s planted 5,600 plants, and is in discussions over additional distribution possibilities.

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in a statement that he supports urban farming.

“While the law department is going to review this matter to see if there are any larger legal issues that need to be pursued, speaking personally, I have been rooting for Mr. Jackson, and I am pleased this decision went his way,” he said.

n7listen-3

Thomas Jackson, right, with his attorney, Sheldon Wittenberg, listens to Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell tell him he's not cooperating with the city of Toledo regarding public nuisance charges.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Mr. Jackson also praised the Kapszukiewicz administration for its support.

“The last administration was not for urban farming,” he said. “This administration ... is totally for urban farming and are trying to find out any which way to help me.”

The court did not rule on whether composting or mulching on a large scale on Toledo properties is a nuisance, as Mr. Jackson did not go through the appeal process over whether wood chips are nuisances. And while neighbors complained about rodents or odors, the nuisance notices only told him to abate “junk, debris, trash, and litter. This is to include wood chips.”

“The inspector did not testify as to whether the problems were getting better, worse, or staying the same as to any of the properties,” the court ruled. “However, the inspector did volunteer, that at the time of trial, her inspection area no longer included appellant’s properties. In addition, although the inspector testified that at the time of trial there were “more woodchips at one or two of the parcels,” there is no indication to which property or properties she was referring.”

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