BY BAYLEN LINNEKIN – NOVEMBER 16, 2016
Restrictions require residents to rip up vegetables or face fines, jail time
An excerpt from Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.
If sustainability starts at home, then so too do rules that determine just how sustainable you can be in your home life. Farmers can rely on their own crops and livestock for food, compost, clothing, and a host of other solutions. Gardens can be a great place for homeowners to help feed a family and use composted waste. Even other less obvious homebased pursuits can feed into sustainability efforts.
photo by Carol Norquist
For example, brewing beer — whether from ingredients grown at home or obtained at a farm or store — can help reduce packaging and transport costs, help out local farmers keen to receive spent grains, and give homebrewers the ultimate control over what they’re drinking. The explosion of homebrewing in America in recent decades is a great example of how federal rules can affect your home. Before 1978, it was illegal for Americans to brew beer at home. That year, President Jimmy Carter signed into law a bill that allowed Americans to make beer (and wine) at home, so long as they didn’t sell it. In addition to letting Americans brew beer at home for the first time since Prohibition, the law is credited with helping to set in motion the explosion of craft brewing in this country, as many of yesterday’s homebrewers went on to become today’s commercial craft brewers. Although the ban on homebrewing is one of the best known examples of a prohibition on producing one’s own food at home, many arguably more sustainable food practices — ones far more mundane than brewing beer — are banned at home by a tangled web of local rules.
Growing food in home gardens is among the easiest, most popular, and most personal ways to promote and consume sustainable food. It’s also a practice that’s exploded in popularity in recent years. A 2009 report by the National Gardening Association found that nearly one third of American households raises some combination of fruits and vegetables at home. A 2014 report by the same group found that the number of edible gardens had grown since the earlier report by 17 percent. A 2012 report by the New York Times noted that home food gardens are a byproduct of the “growing interest in sustainability.”
Despite the mushrooming popularity of raising food at home, gardeners around the country have faced a dizzying number of bewildering restrictions in recent years. “Jason Helvenston was at work on his second crop, spreading compost to fertilize the carrots, bok choy, kale and dozens of other vegetables he grows organically on his property in Orlando, Fla., when the trouble began,” reads the lede of that same New York Times article, which focuses on municipal battles over home gardens. A neighbor’s landlord had complained that Helvenston’s neat little garden made his house look “like a farm.” Helvenston, a sustainability consultant, squared off against city officials intent on forcing him to rip up the garden in his front yard. The city backed down in 2013, and Helvenston was able to keep his garden. But others haven’t been so lucky.
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