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
It may frustrate some neighbors, but as populations shift toward urban centers in greater numbers and the practice of sustainable living grows, agricultural homesteading practices like backyard chicken-keeping and vegetable gardening are becoming more popular. While proponents say people should be encouraged to produce their own food and take a greater interest in natural ecosystems, sometimes the reality isn’t as pretty as the pastoral pictures people have in their heads. And Law’s front-yard garden is certainly no well-groomed paradise.
According to Law, Florida statutes are on his side in this battle with his neighbors and the city of Longwood. He says he’s going to fight the fines imposed on him because he believes he is “protected by the Florida Friendly Landscaping statute.” The law, passed in 2009, states that local ordinances may not prohibit property owners from implementing Florida-friendly landscaping practices. Specifically, Law says, the statute suggests that people may “reduce mowed areas” because unmowed grass contains a greater diversity of plants and wildlife.
This is shaky ground to stand on, though. There are a number of other measures within the statute that prevent municipalities and homeowners associations from prohibiting Florida-friendly landscaping, but things get hazy in section 1[b], where the law declares that a homeowner cannot be prevented from planting “quality landscaping.” But who defines what is “quality”? The state leaves it up to local courts to decide, and it’s apparent where Law’s local court stands as it denied his most recent appeal to be permitted to keep his yard as he pleases.
And Law’s yard isn’t your garden-variety vegetable patch. He says he is following the teachings of Japanese microbiologist and agricultural scientist Masanobu Fukuoka, who practiced a style of food cultivation called shizen noho, which means “natural farming.” Fukuoka is seen as one of the founders of the organic farming and guerrilla gardening movements because of his groundbreaking work in anti-desertification using seed bombs (little clay balls filled with soil, compost and seeds) and natural selection to regrow disturbed areas. Essentially, people roll the seed bombs, toss them into a fallow area and see what happens – the plants that are most adept at growing in that particular area thrive, and the rest die back. Fukuoka famously applied this method to growing food on his farm in Japan and wrote several books about his process. His practice of do-nothing farming insists that the custom of plowing, fertilizing, weeding, pruning and applying pesticides is unnecessary, or even harmful, to food production. Fukuoka asserted that the best way to farm was to combine the lowest amount of input (less work) with the same amount of output, which would mean greater net returns.
Law’s practice is a little more loose and haphazard than Fukuoka’s actual method. He prefers to use seeds of edible species, like radishes and collards, and then toss them into his front yard. He is a strict believer in the no-tilling, no-weeding and no-pruning aspect of Fukuoka’s practice and lets the plants survive through natural selection. He harvests what he needs on a day-to-day basis and lets the rest go to seed to be used again in more seed bombs. If he does it correctly, Law should never have to buy seeds for those plants ever again.
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