Couple Fights to Bring Edible Gardens Back Into Orlando
|By Heather Callaghan|
Just over a year ago, Jason and Jennifer Helvenston were ordered to destroy their 25 x 25 micro-irrigated front yard veggie garden on their own property or else pay $500 per day in fines. That deadline of November 7th, 2012 and a second one in January 2013 came and went. The couple never budged – they toiled on despite the threat of burdensome fines, tiresome hearings and harassment from city workers of Orlando, Florida.
The couple asked everyone to join them in an online campaign called “Plant a Seed, Change the Law” that included free seeds. Jason had said:
They will take our house before they take our Patriot Garden.
The city had demanded they uproot and replace with appropriate ground cover (grass) for aesthetics’ sake. In other words, there was no law in place restricting them.
The Helvenstons had written:
All we want to do is use our property peacefully to grow our own food. The Constitution protects our property rights from arbitrary invasions like this. Help us tell our leaders “Hands off our food!” by planting your own Patriot Garden in your front yard. Here’s how.
In a slick move, the city then created a Green Works Task Force in an attempt to compromise, and perhaps blanket the town in new sets of rules.
Orlando Sentinel reports that Orlando is finally changing its ordinances to allow front yard gardens. Gardens do not have to hit the road or move to the backyard any longer. On Monday, City Council pre-approved rules for veggie gardens on up to 60% of a front yard (water conservation cited as the reasoning), set back 3 feet from property line, screened in with fencing or shrubbery and not in public right-of-way.
Sentinel reports that the Helvenstons were happy for the allowance of edible gardens but displeased with the strings attached. Jennifer said, “Our garden is not only our food source, but our way of life.” The city’s first attempt at compromise was so ridiculous, it was basically also a ban on gardens.
On their blog, the couple writes:
The Orlando City Council will be voting on a new City Landscape Ordinance that will include edible landscape. We will be asking to speak at both meetings but hope to have a Victory Celebration after the final vote.
-First Reading will be during the November 25th meeting that starts at 2pm
-FINAL Reading and Vote will be during the December 9th meeting that starts at 2pm
So, it looks like December 9th will be the true date to watch on this issue. They make note, that they did work with the city’s created task force numerous times to come to an agreement and that there will be some restrictions on their property rights. Instead of allowing sustainable gardening under already applicable laws, the city has dissected and complicated the issue. Orlando acted aggressively in the absence of law – now it appears there will be regulations regarding how people grow from here on out. The Helvenstons’ goal, however, is for people to be able to grow their own food on their own property.
This is just the beginning for them as they plan on taking their efforts towards more community gardens in the city. They are making sure the city is putting their actions in alignment with its own mission statement aspiring to be the “Greenest City in America”: To inspire and facilitate the development of a well-planned, diverse, and sustainable community to make Orlando more livable for its citizens, businesses and visitors.
Unfortunately, this influential victory arrives just a bit too late for another Florida couple who had been in the same boat. Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll were compelled to uproot their 17-year-old garden or face fines of $1500 per month. Miami Shores refused to leave them alone. They had previously been able to harvest 80% of their year’s food supply with the garden. With the help of Institute for Justice, they are now filing suit against Miami Shores.