Those who believe in self-sufficiency have won a major victory in Orlando, where the city council voted to allow residents to plant vegetable gardens in their front yards.
The council has given preliminary approval to an ordinance that will strike down a ban on growing vegetables in the front yard.
The council’s ruling is in response to a campaign organized by gardeners Jason and Jennifer Helvenston. The Helvenstons became enraged when a city code enforcement officer tried to fine them $500 a day if they didn’t tear out a vegetable garden in the front yard of their home in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood.
An ordinance that will let Orlando residents use up to 60 percent of their front yards for vegetables passed its first reading at the council on Dec. 2. The ordinance will need to pass a second vote to become law. If it passes then, the new ordinance go into effect in March.
Those supporting the ordinance include Mayor Buddy Dyer. Dyer told Orlando’s Fox affiliate that the sustainability movement is growing and he wants to support it.
“This is a good step in the right direction,” Jennifer Helvenston said of the ordinance, “but there’s more that needs to be for the sustainability movement if we want to be the greenest city in America.”
Threatened with fines for growing vegetables
The Helvenstons were moved to become politically active last year when they tried to grow kale and other crops in their front yard. That prompted a neighbor to complain to the city and a code enforcement officer to threaten the couple with a $500-a-day fine.
The couple responded to the outrage by organizing a protest movement called Patriot Garden. Part of the movement’s strategy was to encourage citizens to plant radishes in their front lawns. The Helvenstons – who have a front yard but no back yard — credit what they call a gardener army for putting pressure on the city.
The gardener army eventually gained nationwide support from a wide variety of organizations including:
- The Institute for Justice
- Kitchen Gardeners International
- The Coalition for Property Rights
- The Campaign for Liberty
- Mother Earth News
- Food Not Bombs
- Food Not Lawns
- Orlando Center for Urban Permaculture
- Front Porch Radio
They won by putting together a coalition of environmentalists on the left and property rights advocates on the right. Their victory shows the importance of activism in the defense of property rights.
Interestingly enough, the city of Orlando dropped the effort at fining the couple when its own lawyers pointed out that there was no legal basis for the fines. The couple kept up the pressure in order to get the law changed.
Battle for gardeners’ rights being waged across US and Canada
A fight to plant vegetables in front yards is being waged in other communities, too. For instance:
- City officials in Oak Park, Michigan, threatened Julie Bass with 93 days in jail in 2011 if she didn’t rip out vegetable beds in her front yard.
- Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll of Miami Shores, Florida, had to tear out their 17 year old organic garden to avoid a $50 a day fine, as Off The Grid News previously reported. The couple is suing the city with the help of the Institute for Justice.
- A proposed change to the city code in Des Moines, Iowa, would have banned front yard vegetable yard gardens. The city council rejected the proposal from a code enforcement committee, fearing outrage from gardeners. Mayor Steve Gaer and Council Member Kevin Trevillyan specifically told local media that they opposed the proposed ordinance because it would interfere with property rights.
- Josee Landry and Michel Beauchamp of Drummondville, Quebec, faced fines of between $100 and $300 a day because they used more than 30 percent of their front yard for a vegetable garden. City authorities backed down after 29,000 people signed a petition supporting the couple’s right to garden last year.
More and more people are speaking out for the right to garden and are fighting back against laws that restrict gardening. If there is such a law in your city or town, you should let your local politicians know you want it changed.