Continuing Fight for the Right to Grow Food: Orlando's War on Gardens


In early October 2012, a notice from the City of Orlando’s Code Enforcement stated that Jennifer and Jason Helvenston’s “front yard must be restored to its original configuration and ground Halvenston's front yard gardencovers restored.” As reported Nov. 12, Orlando has taken issue with the rows of beans, greens, and other vegetables occupying the space between the resident’s front door and sidewalk.

The Helvenston’s micro-irrigated front yard garden is in contrast to other yards in their neighborhood, where a “finished” and “inviting” appearance is mandatory. The Nov. 7 deadline for the garden removal passed with the Helvenston’s refusal to uproot their vegetables, and Jason declaring, “You’ll take my house before you take my vegetable garden.”

On Nov. 20, 2012, the City of Orlando’s Public Information Officer for the Office of the Mayor, Cassandra Lafser, told MOTHER EARTH NEWS:

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 does not have an ordinance governing vegetable gardens in the front yard. 

However, the City of Orlando has faced the issue of front yard vegetable production before, providing a precedent by which an ordinance might have been drafted. A complaint filed in 2010 after a resident used most of his front and back yards to grow 10-foot-tall corn resulted in a document drafted June 25, 2010, entitled Agricultural uses in Residential Zones LDC2010-00131. The City clearly lists their code definition of “agriculture” to be: the production, keeping or maintenance, for sale, lease or personal use, of plants and/or animals useful to humans.

At the time, code enforcement acknowledged this limiting definition, stating “in a strict interpretation, anyone who grows a tomato plant in his or her back yard would be in violation of the code,” going on to say:

Clearly this was not the intent of our code. In my [zoning official, Mark Cechman’s] opinion, the intent of the code was to prevent the nuisance effects of major farming activities from harming the reasonable use and enjoyment of adjacent, non-agricultural property owners. 

The final outcome of the June 2010 code enforcement proclaimed that the corn-growing resident could grow corn for personal use, but only in his backyard and production must not exceed 10 percent of the lot’s size. For this reason, it would seem Orlando does have a position on front yard gardening, contrasting with Lafser’s recent statement. Mayor Dyer’s office declined to comment on the 2010 code enforcement.

Steve Kennedy
12/13/2012 12:31:55 AM

Really? If I were the Mayor of the city Orlando I would put a big sign in there yard saying Family of the year, Doing there part in making Orlando a better place to live and improving there peace of earth. Then I would look over at the butting neighbor and say "HOW YOU DOIN ?

Bradley Gaudrault
12/11/2012 7:33:36 PM

Dear Mayor Buddy Dyer, After reading about The Helvenstons it saddens me that somebody would have a problem with such an amazing lawn. The so called "ugly" front yard provides them more nutritious tasteful food than they could find in most supermarkets. They are doing their party in stopping Global Warming and Climate Change, and after Hurricane Katrina I am surprised you're city isn't doing more and at least welcoming great ideas like this. They are doing their neighbors, city and nation a favour. It is people like the people that try to stop things like this that give the United States and North America altogether a bad name. I really hope you try to do something to help this family's dispute against the city. Remember, you are hired by the people for the people to do the right thing. Sincerely, Bradley.

Marina Helsel
12/7/2012 1:42:00 AM

Well first of all- I am jealous over fantastic looking yard. Second- look at the beautiful smiles of the owners! Happy people, happy homes equals happy communities. In my opinion municipality should appreciate and rase the value of homes with cultivated land on the property. It takes years to build up your soil and grow deicent crop and only a bag of grass seed and couple of months to turn it all back into a perfect obsessive lawn. I feel for Jennifer and Jason. Just went through something similar with my municipality past summer, but my garden is on the side of the house and I dont enjoy grass cutting on weekly basis at 98F. Officer told me to hide my garden out of view. So I put up ornamental fence that I found on the side of the road and ripped the grass out. They didn't really specify how to cover the garden and what I can and can't do with my grass. Will grow pumpkins next summer, see what they say about it. Bees and chickens anyone?

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