A couple in Orlando has turned their front yard into a garden, but they're growing more than just vegetables; the Helvenstons have sparked a controversy.
You'll find the family's livelihood just feet away from Interstate 4. Jennifer and Jason Helvenston broke ground on the garden last Superbowl Sunday.
The couple is calling it a "Patriot Garden," and they are calling on other people to do the same. The name is a reference to the so called "Victory Gardens" that were planted during World War II.
"This is our food source," said Jason. "This is everything."
The couple was looking for a way to save money.
"I had lost my job starting my own business," said Jason. "I couldn't find work so I created my own. This was the quickest way to save a whole lot of money."
Jennifer said the family was forced to plant vegetables in their front yard, because of the trees in their backyard.
"We decided to have it in our front yard really because of the plants' needs," said Jennifer. "The plants need sunlight. Our whole backyard is shaded."
Last August, the couple added a chicken coop in the backyard.
All was growing fine until we're told a neighboring landlord returned home for a visit and complained to the City.
"I called them up, and talked to them," said Jason. "We thought it was just some confusion. We had just planted seeds for the new crop, so there was some exposed dirt. I thought I was going to be able to tell them, finish mulching, and it would grow in and it would be fine."
However, it was not fine.
Spokesperson Cassandra Anne Lafser said the city does not have an ordinance against vegetable gardens, but does have an ordinance on ground cover standards. City leaders told the couple they were in violation of section 60.207 of Orlando's Land Development Code. Essentially, the couple needed to replace the garden with a lawn or face fines of up to $500 a day.
Weeks later, the city created a task force to examine the issue. City staff met with the community and residents, including the Helvingstons. On Tuesday, the Helvenstons said they received an email with the group's recommendations.
"What you see here," said Jason. "Where we stand now, it would not be legal. Those tomato plants here would not be legal because they are too high."
The Helvenstons said this is their first garden and added that they have received an outpouring of community support. The couple said they have also invited all of the neighbors to plant vegetables on their land.
"We've inspired quite a few immediate neighbors," said Jason. "Just the next street over that way they're all doing very good successful gardens."
There will be a board meeting next Tuesday, January 15, at 8:30 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the new recommendations.
The City issued the following statement:
"The City has put the Helvingston's code violation case on hold permanently and they will not be fined or held to any compliance schedule under that originally issued code violation. This case has brought forward the need for the City to make changes to our code to better reflect our commitment to environmental responsibility and we are currently in the process of drafting amendments to this code that will encourage the use of residential vegetable gardens as a sustainable source of producing food."
While waiting for a final decision, the Helvenstons said they plan to stick to their roots and fight for their garden.
"We're not going to get rid of the garden," said Jason. "It's not going to happen."
The Helvenstons are also asking others to join their cause by planting a seed to change the law. To contact the couple and learn more about their cause, visit Patriot-Gardens.com.
On the web: