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Across the Country, City Officials Target Citizens Planting Gardens on their Own Property

ORLANDO, FL – A College Park man has joined a growing number of homeowners intent on using their private property to its fullest potential by growing a vegetable garden in his front yard. City officials, however, say the 25×25 foot micro-irrigated vegetable garden is against city code.

When notified he must dig up his vegetables, Jason Helvingston told the city, “You’ll take my house before you take my vegetable garden.” He told a local TV reporter, “There’s nothing wrong here, there’s nothing poisonous here. This is a sustainable plot of land.”

Orlando city code requires ground covers to be planted in a way that gives off a finished appearance so neighborhood lawns are clean, and inviting — keeping property values up. Similar codes around the country are creating showdowns between private property owners and cities intent on keeping property values as high as possible so that tax coffers are filled from property taxes.

Helvingston refused to listen to the city and is seeking to petition the code to allow for vegetable gardens in the front yard. So far he has gathered over 200 signatures of neighbors and other citizens who have no problem with the garden at all. One neighbor, Shelly Snow, said, “(I’m) definitely not bothered by it. As a matter of fact, we love it,” she said.

Helvingston hopes the city will reconsider the code when he meets with a code board in December. “This is another example of the government telling us what we can do with our own property — that should never happen,” he said. “In any economic downturn in the past history of the United States, the government has always encouraged the people to grow their own food, and so we want to continue with that movement.”

Other College Park residents are concerned the city will come after their gardens as well. Greg Clifton who is growing 1/4 of an acre of vegetables in his backyard told local news, “I have every intention of using my front yard as a garden and I think the more I can grow the better it is.”

But it’s not just Orlando where home owners and renters are coming to conflict with local city codes simply because they are growing their own food where they live.

Karl Tricamo of Ferguson, Missouri decided to plant a home garden mostly due to concerns about GMOs and the use of pesticides and herbicides in industrial farming. Before starting his garden he reviewed the city’s ordinances to ensure that he was following all the necessary rules in regards to front yard landscaping.

However, when Tricamo tore up the front lawn and converted it into an heirloom veggie garden, city officials cited his landlord for “Failure to meet the minimum standards of the City of Ferguson exterior appearance code.”

It’s not clear if his garden was targeted because of any complaints, but at least one neighbor was on Team Karl. “My immediate neighbor even let me put two tomato bushes in her front yard planter box, as a show of solidarity,” said Tricamo.

Thankfully, the outcome was favorable for this Missouri man. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that last week Tricamo’s months-long feud with the city ended when the city’s Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 to throw out the citation against his garden.

There was a time when Victory Gardens were a thing of community pride rather than a source of contention. Self-sufficiency was applauded and considered a matter of civic duty rather than a drain of property value.

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