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Growing Food in a Florida HOA

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Kat asks how she can grow food at her HOA-restricted home:

“I am in central Florida in Ocala and have a shady back yard and a sunny front yard however the homeowners assoc. does not allow growing in a front yard. I am wondering what food I could grow that does not need a lot of sun. I could set up some pots on my lanai which gets some sun but not full sun. As for the sides one east/one west, there is a small patch on the west side only. Any ideas you can share?”

HOA restrictions on gardening have been a blight on the state for years. Just consider the Helvenstons fight a decade ago. Even some non-HOA neighborhoods and cities put all kinds of restrictions on gardening, sometimes even driving people from their homes with fees.

Fortunately, in 2019, Governor Desantis signed into law CS/SB 80, which supersedes all local restrictions on vegetable gardening.

The Legislature intends to encourage the development of sustainable cultivation of vegetables and fruits at all levels
of production, including for personal consumption, as an important interest of the state.

(2) Except as otherwise provided by law, a county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state may not regulate vegetable gardens on residential properties. Any such local ordinance or regulation regulating vegetable gardens
on residential properties is void and unenforceable.

(3) This section does not preclude the adoption of a local ordinance or regulation of a general nature that does not
specifically regulate vegetable gardens, including, but not limited to, regulations and ordinances relating to water use
during drought conditions, fertilizer use, or control of invasive species.

(4) As used in this section, the term “vegetable garden” means a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated for human ingestion. 

Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2019.

This should mean that you can tell the HOA that you are planting vegetables in accordance with your rights under Florida law.

Some years ago I gave a gardening talk in an upscale Florida neighborhood with an HOA, only to discover that almost all the plants I recommended and grew were not on the “approved list.” This list contained almost nothing but ornamentals of very limited usefulness. The denizens of this blighted town were reduced to guerrilla-gardening garlic chives amidst the liriope grass and hiding sweet potatoes in the English ivy.

Maxim: It is better to live in a trailer on your own poison ivy-infested sand than in an HOA with pickleball courts and manicured oleanders.

Because you can plant the ground at your trailer. And the sound of pickleball is driving people mad.

Now, the state of Florida has changed the law on gardens, and you should be able to bring that law to your HOA, and then put in a garden.

However, if you can’t manage to beat the HOA and grow some food, here are some tips for growing food when you live in an HOA:

1: Use Pretty Pots

Who could deny you a pretty vine growing in a nice pot on your patio? Do they need to know it’s an ube yam climbing that trellis? Nope. It’s Filipino ivy!

You can also grow potatoes in pots, as well as herbs, sweet potatoes, beans, taro, chaya, greens, etc.

2: Grow Plants that Look Like Ornamentals

Garlic chives fit among the liriope, of course, and sweet potatoes grow in the ivy, but you could also plant lemongrass instead of an ornamental grass, edible flowers instead of non-edible ones, fruiting shrubs instead of non-fruiting ones, etc. Some things hide quite nicely. Think “edible landscaping” instead of row crops.

3. Guerrilla Garden

I met a couple at one of our plant sales a few weeks ago. They told me they were growing edibles in a lot just behind their HOA neighborhood. We’ve gardened on a 1/4 acre lot a couple blocks from our apartment when we were renting – maybe you can do something similar.

4. Borrow Land

Do you go to church? If so, there’s almost certainly someone in your church that would let you borrow some land to garden on. Do you know any retirees? Perhaps they’d like a vegetable garden but aren’t able to grow one themselves. Help ’em out, and share the produce. Volunteer anywhere? Perhaps you can start a community garden.

5. Fight the Man

Or at least, learn to work with him. Maybe your HOA leadership isn’t as evil as they seem and they might let you build a garden after all. Or perhaps there’s some empty space that could be allocated to growing food. A lot of people love organic produce. If you’re winsome, maybe you can convince the board to rekindle their love of life and allow some gardening. Alternately, you can seize control of the board in a coup, then throw all the garden-haters out of helicopters.

Back to Kat’s question: if she’s not able to plant a vegetable garden for some reason, many vegetables will grow in Florida with only a few hours of sun as our solar energy is quite intense.

We once grew yard-long beans against the north side of a rental house in Citra and got a yield even without any direct sun. Just the reflected sun off the baking-hot backyard was enough. If you have deep shade, gingers will grow, and probably some greens, but it gets hard to grow roots and fruits.

The best way to find out, of course, is to try.

First try taking that law to your HOA, however. Or call a legal expert and see if it says what it looks like it says, because to my non-legal eyes it’s a trump card.

Finally, you could move. Living in an HOA isn’t conducive to self-sufficiency, especially if you’d like to expand into raising chickens and/or taking control of more of your diet with dairy and meat animals, or rows of grain corn, or sprawling patches of delicious pumpkins.



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