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Fight for the Right to Grow Food: Orlando Man Cited for Illegal Gardening [Updated]

Illegal Garden 

For most of us who have vegetable gardens or aspire to grow our own food, we wouldn’t consider our bean poles and lettuce patches acts of political defiance. However, for Jason and Jennifer Helvenston of Orlando, Fla., their front yard garden has become a battleground, pitting food self-sufficiency against city ordinance.

The Helvenstons' 25-square-foot micro-irrigated front yard garden is in contrast to other yards in his neighborhood, where a “finished” and “inviting” appearance is mandatory. Their backyard chickens have not been called into question, with only the front garden coming under scrutiny. The City has asked them to remove their garden patch.

Jason blames the current situation on a system that allows city government the authority to dictate what homeowners do with their properties, something he argues “should never happen.” He has gathered over 200 signatures from neighbors, some of whom claim they love the garden, to petition the city to reconsider.

The Nov. 7 deadline for the Helvenstons to remove the garden passed with their refusal to uproot his vegetables. “You’ll take my house before you take my vegetable garden,” Jason told the city. Orlando officials have told him he will have to appear before a board in December for a hearing on the matter. Visit WKMGLocal 6’s Click Orlando for the video report. And visit the Helvenston's Patriot Gardens blog to stay current or offer support.

Orlando is not the only municipality in the news recently for restricting residents’ right to grow food. Earlier this summer, Tulsa, Okla., resident, Denise Morrison filed a lawsuit against the City for unlawfully mowing down her front yard in August 2011. Tulsa ordinance prohibits plants over 12 inches tall unless they produce food. Morrison claims each of her over 100 plant varieties not only provided her food but also medicine to treat arthritis and diabetes. Visit KOTV’s News on 6 for the report.

For more reasons to take control of your food supply and reject a flawed system, read Robert Doiron’s article, “Subversive Plots” (August/September 2012).

UPDATE; Nov. 20, 2012 

Cassandra Anne Lafser, Public Information Officer for the Office of Mayor of Orlando, offered the following statement:

The City is not requiring the property owner to tear up his garden. The City of Orlando is committed to environmental responsibility and encourages the use of vegetable gardens as a sustainable source of producing food. The City is working with the property owner to address a concern shared by a neighbor.  The concern was related to the appearance of the lack of ground cover.

The City does not have an ordinance governing vegetable gardens in the front yard.  Our existing landscape code never contemplated front yard food production, hence the confusion. As society’s tastes change, we continue to adapt our development and landscape codes.

To assist with this process and the topic of sustainability as a whole, the City has created a Green Works Task Force.   The Task Force will help develop Orlando’s plan for sustainability, which will serve as the road map to steer future policies, developments and investments.   The Task Force will review the current land development code as it relates to landscaping and explore options and standards.

If you would like to voice your opinion regarding this issue to Orlando's Mayor Buddy Dyer, he can be contacted at, or call 407.246.2182.

Kale Roberts is an assistant editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. His interests include renewable energy, real food and sustainable rural development. You can find him on .

Photo by WKMG Local 6/Video screen capture 

1/15/2013 4:40:52 PM

it's good that this rule will never happen in Thailand. Every family here can grow anything in their land such as vegetables and trees. Also, i hope people in Florida can have a right to have their own vegetable gardens. It's a wonderful thing, i know. I always see my mom's happy face when she is gardening. It can make you relax. You can eat healthy food from your land. Your children will grow up healthily. See? :)

12/27/2012 4:43:52 PM

Just read your article and felt moved to action. Here is my email sent to Orlando's Mayor Buddy Dyer who can be contacted at Hello Mr. Dyer, I'm an urban farmer from Portland, Oregon and deeply concerned about American's ability to grow and connect with food - especially with children and future generations. Further, I just read about Jason and Jennifer Helvenston's front yard garden and trouble with perceived "lack of ground cover" concern from a neighbor and potential requirement of fencing their garden. Please take a moment and use this event for the positive - help your citizens connect with healthy food. Teach classes on gardening, biodiversity, and cooking food grown at home. Connect with other farmers within the area for assistance. Allow the Helvenston's example to inspire others. Gardens evolve, move, dance, and are best when shared with others. We need city ordinances and codes to promote better health and connection within community rather than isolating and condeming. You can do it. Melina Carabajal

barbara pleasant
11/27/2012 1:06:22 PM

Good for Orlando! Many cities are seeing the wisdom of home food production, whether it's food or eggs from back yard chickens. Sustainability starts at home..

ann pulley
11/19/2012 2:25:29 PM

Shame on Orlando and ALL other communities with such idiot rules and regulations. They can stick their Agenda 21 in the south 40. Agenda 21 is pure EVIL and communism and WRONG. I dont know who [other than Satan] comes up with such idiot ideas; but the Communist in Chief is partly responsible. The UN can take a flying leap at manhole covers too.

jen carres
11/19/2012 2:38:52 AM

I love my pet TickleMe Plant

11/18/2012 10:59:18 AM

unfortunately the reason the cities are doing this is because of the U.N. proposition 21. The U.N. sent out books to all cities explaining how to bring their cities in line with their agendas. BTW this is also where the new buzz word sustainability comes from. It is also where the cities got the idea to fine people for letting their grass get to long, or having to much junk in your yard. Under 21 you will start to notice where cities will start trying to meter the water you pull from your personal well.

esta noche
11/18/2012 12:24:17 AM

I wish so much that you were correct. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common. Just last year they even tried to send a single mother to jail for a vegetable garden in Detroit. Low level politicians just love to arbitrarily enforce power. Add to that, the fact that the higher level politicians they hope will mentor them in a rise to higher offices are all in the pockets of big ag giants like monsanto, conagra, and corporate farms. Then throw in the more dangerous aspects of the so-called Food Safety and Modernization act of 2010... and it's obvious that this problem will get FAR worse before it gets better.

alexander clarke
11/17/2012 12:29:32 AM

Government controlling the right to grow food: They control what we eat. Even in communist China they don't do that. It's just as bad or worse in 'Free' Canada. I second Rodger Orr, a revolution is very soon going to be necessary.

11/16/2012 8:08:36 PM

The communities that made this type of rule are going to find, "thanks" to climate change, that no-one cares what your garden or anyone's looks like, since everyone will be trying to grow as much of their own food as possible.

leti nieves
11/15/2012 8:18:11 PM

this is stupid! we got other problems in the world, and they are worried about these people's garden... he is bargaining from not having to spend money at the store... as long as they keep it together people shouldnt be so dern nosey...

roger orr
11/15/2012 8:09:14 PM

How about we start using our arms to ensure our rights to grow food?

11/15/2012 4:15:40 PM

We have the right to bear arms but not to grow food??