Jason and Jennifer Helvenston’s front yard garden in Orlando, Floriduh
The seed catalogs have arrived, and for the roughly 15 percent of Americans who appreciate the joys and rewards of growing some of their own crops, this is a more encouraging sign than Groundhog Day or even the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training.
Yet several times a year we hear of a situation like the one in Orlando, where the mayor claims to be striving to make his city green while his city harasses homeowners like Jason and Jennifer Helvenston for planting vegetables in their front yard, threatening to fine them $500 a day — for gardening. The battle has been raging for months, and the city’s latest proposal is to allow no more than 25 percent of a homeowner’s front yard to be planted in fruits and vegetables…
But when it comes to the eye of the beholder, weeds are the same thing as beauty: to a gardener, grass is a weed; a row of lettuce surrounded by dark, grassless soil a thing of beauty. To some gardeners, including me, dandelions are a crop.
The situation, then, is not black-and-white. A yard is not either unproductive and “beautiful” — as a lawn — or, as a garden, productive and “ugly.” Many of us can thrill to the look of dead stalks, and even enjoy watching them rot. This is a matter of taste, not regulation.
And small-scale suburban and urban gardening has incredible potential. Using widely available data, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International estimates that converting 10 percent of our nation’s lawns to vegetable gardens “could meet about a third of our fresh vegetable needs at current consumption rates.”
Ten percent is optimistic; even 1 percent would be a terrific start, because there is a lot of lawn in this country. In fact it’s our biggest crop, three times as big as corn, according to research done using a variety of data, much of it from satellites. That’s around a trillion square feet — 50,000 square miles — and, since an average gardener can produce something like a half-pound of food per square foot (you garden 100 square feet, you produce 50 pounds of food), without getting too geeky you can imagine that Doiron’s estimates are rational.
Gardening may be private or a community activity; people garden together on common land, and most gardeners I know share the bounty freely. (In parts of England and France, people grow vegetables in their front yards and encourage their neighbors to take them.)
…I recognize that turning lawns into gardens isn’t a panacea, but I also recognize that hounding people for growing vegetables in their front yards is hardly the American way.
Florida seems to be out to achieve special leadership in the “dumb as a hoe handle” school of reactionary politics. I posted about some other stupidity earlier today. In fact, one of the blogs I contribute to has a special graphic header just to illustrate “wacky news from Florida” – originally contributed by one of our editors who lived in Florida.