John Dragona thought he was doing everything right in his backyard garden. The blind, 69-year-old Cliffside Park man, who weeds and plants by touch, buries in his soil a compost of decaying egg shells, coffee grounds and other kitchen scraps most folks send to the landfills as trash.

His neighbors weren’t as impressed by the 12-by-2 foot backyard patch bursting with tomatoes, cucumbers and pepper plants or his environmental sensibilities.

Over the summer Dragona was yanked into municipal court, cited by the borough health department after neighbors’ complaints of odors wafting across from the garden.

He refused to back down, hired a lawyer and prepared for trial. Dragona is one of a growing number of New Jersey residents whose efforts to protect the environment or reduce dependence on non-renewable sources of energy have landed them in court fights, municipal hall battles and threats from neighbors in deed-restricted developments.

Even as New Jersey attempts to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and works to make the goal realistic for residents and businesses, it’s not easy being green in the Garden State, some environmentalists say.

“The irony is that these are the people trying to do the right thing, and the people criticizing them are probably getting (chemicals) which puts more toxins on their lawn into the environment than a golf course,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. Tittel attributes many battles to a tidy “suburban mentality” that aims for perfect lawns and landscapes. People who do things differently, be it a compost pile, natural grasses, solar panels or wind turbines, can find themselves in trouble, he said.

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