Longwood front-yard farmer stands by his permaculture plot
Despite distraught neighbors and mounting fines, Shon Law says he’ll continue to grow food not grass
Published: March 5, 2014
We’ve all heard this story before: An academic, hippie environmentalist moves into a middle-class suburban neighborhood where neighbors like their front yards tended and prefer their lawns to have conservative buzz cuts, just like their men. The new neighbor has other ideas, however, and upsets the balance. People start to worry about their property values, pests and the aesthetics of their otherwise quiet subdivision. It’s the age-old tale of living in the ’burbs – the neighbor’s grass isn’t always greener, especially when it’s dotted with radishes and dandelions instead of bright green sod.
Shon Law is a 32-year-old tech start-up wizard who foundedsocial media website, Nebber, a few years back. He’s also a Longwood resident who refuses to mow his lawn. In fact, he’s decided to stop interfering with his yard altogether in favor of planting edibles and letting it go native, a decision that his neighbors and the city are not happy about. Law is being fined $300 a day for abandoning the traditional grassy lawn for a quilt-like expanse of ankle- to knee-high tufty native grasses, weedy plants and isolated patches of vegetables. Law has placed a path of square cement blocks around the plot to try to make it look a little more civilized, but they really only emphasize how high and overgrown the grass is.
To date, Law has accumulated well over $130,000 in fines for breaking city codes, mostly dealing with the length of his grass and attracting pests. The city of Longwood has placed a lien against his property in an effort to make Law change his ways, but he says he doesn’t plan to change a thing.
Video: Shon Law explains his farming philosophy
When asked why, he says he believes he’s doing the right thing. “This area is a food desert, which means no food is readily available here and it has to be trucked in from somewhere else,” he says. “Sure, I could move out to Bithlo, but I bought this house here, and I have a right to do what I think is best on this property. … This is a free city, and we cannot bar a property owner from doing something on the basis of aesthetics. … If something happened and food was no longer being brought to this area, all of these people would starve.”
Law is practicing the art of permaculture, a method of agriculture rooted in natural ecosystems. His goal, like the goal of many permaculturists who went before him, is to bring sustainable, local sources of food closer to home.
Clashes between radical locavores and their more traditional neighbors have grown more common as interest in sustainable food production has increased. In 2012, a College Park couple faced fines of more than $500 a day after neighbors complained that their front-yard vegetable garden was against code. In response to the controversy, the city of Orlando eventually rewrote its landscaping code to allow city residents to dedicate a limited amount of their property to edible plants.
> Email Brendan O’Connor