An illegal garden? An Interview With Sean Law


Over a week ago, my dad sent me an article on Longwood homeowner Sean Law and his battle to restore his piece of the Earth to a healthy ecosystem.

When I saw the piece, I felt a quick connection to the guy, particularly when he mentioned Fukuoka as an influence. So, after some finagling, I managed to reach him personally for an interview.

Before I caught up with him via phone the first time, I wondered if he was going to be one of those “crazies” that simply won’t abide by the rules or make friends with neighbors, etc. You know, the kind of guy that fixes cars late at night with pneumatic wrenches while cranking up AC/DC, or the gal that stuffs her house with piles of newspapers and dead cats.

Sean Law’s inspiration, Masanobu Fukuoka

Instead, I found Sean to be more caring about people that you would imagine, considering his current battle with the city of Longwood. He’s unassuming, friendly, coherent and well-versed in Florida law. He also has a deep love for the environment and the many creatures that inhabit it, right down to the microorganisms in the soil.

His focus, rather than being on the way things are clunking along right now and on the codes that keep us in a cycle of cropping and poisoning… is on the future of humanity and our planet.

Here he is, in his own words:

Sign his petition by clicking here.

UPDATE: After this interview, I was able to visit Sean Law’s illegal garden and found it to be a marvelous place filled with life. Unfortunately, the city has now taken his house from him. Not all battles end as well as others. The Helvenston garden fight was won… but Law’s was lost.

Covert Homesteading – Chrissy’s got it figured out

covert homesteading

Covert homesteading in the city:

Personally, I’d like to see the cities plowed under and the ground salted, but Chrissy is convinced compromises can be made. Her ideas are good, as always (except when she disagrees with me).

If you are dealing with problematic codes and overreaching bureaucrats, take note.

Helvenston garden fight goes to Orlando’s City Hall on Tuesday


Here’s the press release and a link to the new proposed regulations:

“Friends and Supporters –
We have attached the new Vegetable Garden Proposal that the city announced 01/08/2013.  Most of our Patriot Garden must go and now they are regulating the back and side yards too.
We have until Tuesday 01/15/2013 at 8:30a to prepare a presentation for the Municipal Planning Board that is selected by Mayor Buddy
Dyer.  They have given us little chance for success but we are going to
still try.
Here are our major points:
1.  The government shouldn’t be telling us what we can or can’t do with
the land we 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, you are
discriminating against us.

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 fair 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.  NO HIGHER STANDARDS FOR FOOD.Therefore, we are creating a formal Landscape Proposal for the MPB from us which states just that.

We are asking all local supporters to attend the Municipal Planning Board meeting on Tuesday the 15th at 8:30a in the City Council Chambers, Orlando City Hall.  Please gather in front of City Hall at 7:30am and wear a GREEN shirt.
Thank you so much for your continued support.  God Bless.
Jason and Jennifer Helvenston”


UPDATE: Take a look at how the city’s new regulations would effect the Helvenston’s garden:

UPDATE 2013: The Helvenston’s ended up winning their fight!

Video Interview with Jason and Jennifer Helvenston – the Orlando “Illegal” Front-yard Gardeners


Many of us saw the article last week on the Helvenston family who were told by Orlando to tear out their vegetable garden. I saw it too and was inspired to dig deeper. Fortunately, the Helvenston’s were nice enough to sit down with me for a half-hour interview over Skype.

They’re not crazy, they’re not bad neighbors, and they don’t view themselves as radicals or revolutionaries. They’re just an environmentally keyed-in couple who needed space to grow food and refuse to roll over before city officials who think unproductive grass is better than organic veggies.

Here it is in their own words:

Response from Mayor Dyer on Jason Helvenston’s “Illegal” Front-yard Garden


After sharing the story of Jason Helvenston’s (given wrongly in previous reports as “Helvingston”) front-yard garden being threatened by the city of Orlando, I later posted my e-mail to Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Incidentally, I’ve also been in contact with Jason and Jennifer Helvenston and hope to catch them for an interview later today – with luck, I’ll be able to dig deeper into the story and share what I find with all of you.

This morning, I heard back from Mayor Dyer – here’s his response:

Dear Mr. Goodman,

Thank you for reaching out to us on the topic of residential
gardening. The City of Orlando is committed to environmental
responsibility and encourages the use of vegetable gardens as a
sustainable source of producing food.

While media reports may have inaccurately led you to believe the City
has an ordinance against vegetable gardens, nothing could be further
from the truth.   The City is working with the property owner to
address a concern shared by a neighbor regarding lack of ground cover.
 This code helps the City maintain standard levels that help keep
property values up for residents and creates an inviting atmosphere
for neighbors.

However, our existing landscape code never contemplated front yard
food production, hence the confusion related to this recent story. As
society’s tastes change, we continue to adapt our development and
landscape codes.

To assist with this process and the topic of sustainability as a
whole, the City has created a Green Works Task Force.   The Task Force
will help develop Orlando’s plan for sustainability, which will serve
as the road map to steer future policies, developments and
investments.   The task force will address items such as this to
ensure there is a balance between sustainable practices and
maintaining the high quality of life Orlando residents expect.

To learn more about the City's sustainability efforts, please visit


Buddy Dyer

Orlando Gardener Fights to Keep His Front-yard Garden


Jason Helvenston (UPDATE: his last name is wrong in the video – it should be Helvenston, not Helvingston) is my kind of guy. And his garden is beautiful. It’s just not where code officials think it should be.

Look – everyone’s property values have fallen through the floor here in FL… might as well get a tiny fraction back by growing food. Please – step up, Orlando, and do the “green” thing – support local food production.

Incidentally, I’ve been to the Ag extension in Orlando and was very impressed with some of their forward thinking. Then I see a story like this and just scratch my head… we need to change our “perfect and unproductive lawn” thinking ASAP. Someone in city government can help Jason keep his garden – he’s already got 200 signatures supporting it!


Call or e-mail Orlando’s mayor and let him know how you feel (if anyone can find e-mail addresses from the “board” that will be hearing this case, please post them in the comments).

Mayor Buddy Dyer

Phone:  407.246.2221
Fax: 407.246.2842


UPDATE: Here’s the e-mail I just sent to Orlando’s mayor:

Subject: A Plea on Behalf of Jason Helvington’s Garden
Dear Mayor Dyer,

Thank you for leading Orlando in these tough times.

I’m a Master Gardener, Floridian and garden writer in Marion county…
I’ve got family and friends in Orlando and have toured your excellent
Ag. Extension. Orlando prides itself on being “green,” and I know you’ve
done a lot to promote sustainable uses of land.

Would you please step in and save the front-yard garden of Jason
Helvington? I just saw this news story and find it very upsetting:

Many of us are really struggling with our terrible property values
(houses in my area fell to a quarter of their “boom” value a few years
ago) and growing food helps take some of the bite out. Respectfully, I
believe people like Jason should be encouraged to use their land to feed
themselves. His neighbors love his little garden and it truly makes
Orlando look totally cutting edge. If the zoning board plows it under,
it would be a crime! There are few things more beautiful than seeing
food spring up from the earth in the midst of a suburbia. It reflects
resilience in the face of economic woes and should be encouraged.

Thanks for your time – I pray you step in. Grass consumes resources
without yielding anything – gardens produce much more than they consume.

Please – for the sake of our future – go on over, visit Jason, have a
fresh carrot or tomato… and save this lovely little plot. I promise –
it’ll seriously make you one of the coolest Mayors in the state.

All the best,

David Goodman

Marion County Master Gardener