Sustainable living has always been a goal of ours. We built our sustainable home — much of it with our own bare hands — from naturally sourced materials. We harvest eggs from the three chickens we allow to rove in their pen behind our house. And we grow our vegetables right in our own front yard, ensuring that we have access to honest, decent food without ever having to get into a car. That is, at least, for now.
Several weeks ago, the City of Orlando notified us that our vegetable garden violated the city’s antiquated local ordinances. Either tear up the vegetable garden, they said, or else. The “or else” the city is referring to is a draconian system of penalties that would subject us to fines of up to $500 per day. This in a city that claims it strives to be the “greenest city in America.”
Our vegetable garden doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact, it has made our community a more vibrant, environmentally conscious place. We welcome one and all onto our property to interact with the soil and learn the basics of community gardening. We use our garden as a tool to teach local youth about how homegrown vegetables can be a low-cost alternative to other unhealthy options. We share our food with our friends and neighbors. This is our property, and this is our right.
But the City of Orlando disagrees. They are ignoring our constitutional right to use our property in a way that benefits our entire community while helping the environment. The local code, according to them, requires that we instead cover our front yard with a useless, resource-consuming mass of inedible greenery (what most people refer to as a “lawn”). This is despite the fact that our neighbors love our garden and support us in our effort to lead a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
It hasn’t always been this way in America. In both world wars, it was considered all Americans’ patriotic duty to grow their own food in order to help with the war efforts. Our government recognized the natural value that inheres in a given piece of land. To be able to grow your own food on your own land is to be free. There is nothing more deeply rooted in the American condition than the right to be free from arbitrary invasions by the government into our lives. The greatest freedom you can give someone is the freedom to know they will not go hungry. And yet this is where we find ourselves.
We thought that we were just doing our small part to help create a healthier, more conscious world. But this is not about our little garden anymore. This is about our rights as citizens in a free society. We are prepared to fight the City of Orlando against this violation of our constitutional liberties. And we would love for you to join us.
We are asking residents in Orlando and across the country to join our campaign to “Plant a Seed, Change a Law.” E-mail [email protected], and we will send you a free packet of seeds and a small sign for your front yard that says “Patriot Garden.” Then send us a picture of your front-yard Patriot Garden. Help us tell the City of Orlando and local governments everywhere: Hands off our food!
Jason and Jennifer Helvenston are the owners of Simply Sustain, Inc., a sustainability-consulting partnership for homeowners, businesses and building professionals.