Homeowners Cited for Illegal Gardening: Orlando Couple Fight for the Right to Grow Food

Reluctant revolutionaries, Jason and Jennifer Helvenston face code enforcement over their “illegal garden."

  • Illegal orlando garden
    The Helvenstons' residential neighborhood is largely comprised of rental homes, which they say are often maintained to a barely attractive state. By contrast, many neighbors say they enjoy the Helvenston garden.
    Photo courtesy Jason and Jennifer Helvenston
  • Helvenston Front Yard Garden
     In a war on gardens, Jason and Jennifer Helvenston have been cited by the City of Orlando for not keeping their front yard garden in a "clean," "finished" state, choosing instead to grow beans, greens and other vegetables. 
    Photo courtesy Jason and Jennifer Helvenston
  • Helvenston illegal garden
    Several large trees block sunlight from the Helvenstons' backyard, causing them to choose a site in their front yard to grow vegetables. 
    Photo courtesy Jason and Jennifer Helvenston

  • Illegal orlando garden
  • Helvenston Front Yard Garden
  • Helvenston illegal garden

Jason and Jennifer Helvenston didn’t set out to be revolutionaries. Their small house in urban Orlando is located on a street comprised mainly of unkempt rentals. They stand out, however, because in front of their home is a vegetable garden, overflowing with chard, beans, tomatoes and greens. But now that garden is in jeopardy. They were told to remove it by Nov. 7 or face the wrath of code enforcement.

Jennifer, a physical therapist and brand new Master Gardener relates, “When we first started building the house, it was really always in the plans to continue with the sustainability movement. Let’s have an energy efficient, water efficient home … then reduce our carbon footprint by growing our own vegetables.”

Jason, a sustainability consultant, agrees. “We went as green and sustainable and energy efficient as we could afford…but our backyard is basically shaded by four or five live oaks from the neighbors, and we just don’t have any daylight … the garden just wouldn’t grow back there so our only option was the front yard.”

But on Oct. 8, 2012, a notice from Orlando’s Code Enforcement stated that their “Front yard must be restored to its original configuration and ground covers restored.”

Jason and Jennifer have thus far refused, though they’re far from being firebrands or troublemakers. Jason states “We really didn’t do it in terms of being revolutionary… we just wanted some vegetables. We live on the dead-end of I-4. Pretty much every house on the dead-end is a rental property, with very kind of unmanaged, un-maintained yards. They keep them just barely nice. We thought vegetables were quite attractive.”

It turns out a landlord – who lives outside the country – filed a complaint. The Helvenston’s were shocked since they’d informed all their neighbors of their plans and found the street more than receptive to the idea. Many of the other homeowners and renters chatted with them regularly as the garden took shape. The food plot became a communal gathering place where new relationships were made regularly.

Suzanne Horvath
11/30/2012 10:01:51 PM

Also, don't make planters out of leftover building materials (decking, fencing etc) - most have high levels of chemicals in them.

Meghan Olree
11/20/2012 7:49:49 AM

Please don't grow food in tires. Do you know how many carcinogenic chemicals are in tires? They are incredibly toxic.

Nancy Wood
11/19/2012 7:33:00 PM

I realize more and more how blessed I am here in the rural part of Alabama. We live in rented land and our landlord cares not at all about me digging up grass and having a garden. It's part of the culture here. If not in the ground, then you plant in a tire, or a pot or even a cinder block. But everyone values a fresh picked tomato or collard. Neighbors always ask what you have growing and swapping techniques and secrets are cafe conversation. Like they say in NH...LIVE FREE OR DIE!

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