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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