Thursday, February 28, 2013

Let Them Grow


Jennifer and Jason Helvenston planted a lush vegetable garden organically in their front yard in Orlando.   But in November, the city, which aspires to be the “Greenest City in America”, notified them that their harmless garden violates city code, and they have to tear it up and replace it with grass, or face fines of $500 a day.

On January 8th of 2013 a new City Vegetable Garden Proposal was written. Most of the garden would have to be eliminated and now the city started regulating the back and side yards as well.
 This is a summary of the restrictions of the City's Proposal.
1.  The government shouldn’t be telling gardeners what they can or can’t do with the land they own as long as there are no quantifiable impacts.
2.  The Proposal is a conviction against edible annuals while all other annuals are unrestricted.
3.  The Proposal is a clear strategy against edible gardens by pushing them under the roof line of the building or in its shadow while at the same time requiring year round success.
4.  The Proposal is an assault against the financially less fortunate that cannot afford expensive fences and raised bed structures by pushing their edible gardens even further into the shadows of the building.
5.  The Proposal is discriminating against ALL edible plants by requiring higher standards and special definitions than any other plant in the City's Landscape Code.  By discriminating against the plants that we eat, they are discriminating against gardeners.
6.  The Proposal is a discredit against sustainability.  The City's code will allow max. 60% environment crushing grass but only max. 25% edible annuals with no impacts. 
The best and fare solution for the City is the simplest.  Edible plants meet the same standards and requirements as all other plants.  An edible ground cover gets treated the same as any other ground cover, an edible annual gets treated the same as any other annual.  Each yard in the City of Orlando must be "kept and maintained" to the same levels as any other yard.  There should be no higher standards for food. 
 On February 28th there was a crucial City Counsel meeting on the proposal. I went to City Hall where there was a peaceful demonstration for the right to have a garden. Many protesters wore green as a sign of solidarity. Ryan Price was there holding a yellow pepper from his garden. He has a small garden in his front yard and luckily he has not yet been bothered. College students Jonathan, Adam and Troy were with Ryan. The college students are studying the medical benefits of plants. Jennifer Helvenston showed up with a basket full of vegetables from her garden. Protesters talked about their gardens with pride. Julie Norris was their with her daughter Maya holding a sign that said, Mommy, why can't we grow vegetables? She has a gorgeous garden on her Thornton Park property.

A spokesman said that the City Proposal had once again been rewritten so the meeting would just consist of a reading of the new proposal with no vote. All the protesters went inside city hall to watch their city government at work. The Helveston's small home garden has suddenly become the flash point for a national debate. Orlando leaders moved closer at the February 26th meeting to allow residents to plant vegetables in their front yards, but gardeners remain worried that City Hall's benevolence will come with too many rules.


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