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
Law bristles when his yard is referred to as a garden, preferring instead to label it an ecosystem. “You’re not God the gardener, judging insects and plants,” he says. “You’re letting the plant work itself out. The seed balls let natural selection/God sort it out. So you’re not directly seeding anything.”
Instead, the land and the climate decide what grows. As a result, Law’s 10,000-square-foot yard resembles an unkempt forest of vegetation more than a well-tended cabbage patch. It’s not a fully grown “food forest,” as some of his supporters have referred to it, but in a few years, when Law’s trees have matured and he has established a bit of a canopy, it could produce some high yields. Bananas and fruit tree saplings dot the lot, and in some patches, the ground cover is more than a foot high, peppered with random collards, broccoli and dandelions.
This is just how Law wants it.
“Lawns are disaster-scapes of death,” Law says. “I’d rather live in a life-scape. People are afraid to have living things near their homes so they mow the grass and spray it with poison to keep it away from them.”
Law says he believes that the majority of Americans are suffering from “nature-nauseating conditioning” – that people have been taught to fear or be sickened by nature. It’s hard to disagree when all you have to do is open up your Facebook feed to see a friend’s frantic photo of a bug in the kitchen, or a confused-looking frog in the toilet. But on a recent winter day, while Law stands in his yard pointing fingers and bemoaning his neighbors’ gas-guzzling habits, “gun talk” and mine-versus-yours mentalities, his 66-year-old neighbor arrives home.
“Keep your crap out of my lawn,” Bonnie Corbett, a silver-haired every-granny who lives next door, declares from the safety of her manicured lawn. She points out the remnants of Law’s hurricane-felled tree, which has become a veritable termite buffet, and an informal mulch pile, which has made its way over to her side of the property line. “I’m tired of having to pick it up.”
“I don’t see it as crap, ma’am,” Law retorts, munching on a random green leaf. “This is all part of God’s work, and I’m just trying to do what I think is best, rather than filling my yard with poisons and preventing life.”
Corbett walks away and says over her shoulder: “If you knew something about the Lord, you wouldn’t have a yard like this. My son will be down soon to help me take care of this.”
The tension is palpable, and neighbors can be seen peeking through hedges or out their windows to watch the confrontation play out. It’s clearly not the first time these two have had words, and it certainly won’t be the last. The neighborhood is an older subdivision, and many of the residents have lived in their homes for at least a couple of generations. American flags fly in every driveway, and people sit in their carports on sunny days. The yards fronting this street are not flawless, but they are respectable – clean, mowed and tended – and they reflect the pride of the people living in the neighborhood.
> Email Brendan O’Connor