Couple fined for having garden: Take that, urban vegetable gardening trend

A couple fined for having a garden in Orlando, Fla. has been ordered to dig up their vegetables or pay a $500 a day fine until they do.

Associated Press
Urban farming has sprouted up across the country, such as in this neighborhood near Boston. File/2011.

Michelle Obama does it, but at your house?  Not so fast.

That, at least, is the message Florida couple Jason and Jennifer Helvenston have been getting ever since the Orlando city government told them that their front yard vegetable garden violated municipal codes.

Dig it up by tomorrow (Jan. 10), the city has ordered, according to news reports, or face a $500 a day fine.

Take that, urban gardening trend. 

The Helvenstons knew this could be coming. They first got word from the city back in November that Orlando preferred its front yards to be tidy and grassy and property-value friendly, not scraggly with annoying things like vegetables.  But a report from Click Orlando at the time sparked an outpouring of support, and after being flooded with hundreds of emails, the government said it would hold off with the fining – for a little while, at least.

But now, the news organization says, the Helvenston’s garden is back on the chopping block. And the couple is launching a “Plant a Seed, Change the Law” protest in response.

“The greatest freedom you can give someone is the freedom to know they will not go hungry,” Jason Helvenston was quoted as saying by Click Orlando. “Our Patriot Garden pays for all of its costs in healthy food and lifestyle while having the lowest possible carbon footprint. It supplies valuable food while being attractive. I really do not understand why there is even a discussion. They will take our house before they take our Patriot Garden.”

Back at you, city government.

Except... it turns out that Orlando is far from alone in its laws.  

Although there have been changes in municipal laws in recent years to adjust for the swell of urban gardens and yuppies-turned-horticulturalists, (we ran a story about this a couple of years back), a slew of zoning ordinances limit the reach of suburban green thumbs. Turns out that the well manicured lawn still has a lot of sway – and that a lot of neighbors are less pleased with squash and cabbage than with pansies and daffodils. 

(Not to mention the chicken-next-door controversies.  For those of you who don’t have farm families: Chickens produce more than just eggs.)

We’re not taking sides here. (Although I’ll admit to thinking the whole American-grass love story is bizarre.) Just keep the Helvenstons in mind the next time you decide to organize some natural learning for Junior.  You might end up teaching a civics lesson as well as biology.

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