HOA Bans Vegetable Gardens
In 2017, we received notice from our Home Owner's Association (HOA) that our front yard vegetable garden was not allowed according to the bylaws.
What to Do When the HOA Bans Vegetable Gardens in Your Front Yard
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Rally your community, state your case and keep on growing your own food!
A little background:
In 2017, we received notice from our Home Owner's Association (HOA) that our front yard vegetable garden was not allowed according to the architectural review committee (ARC). In the words of the manager of the HOA:
"The board isn’t saying you can’t have a garden, they are just saying you can’t have it in your front yard."
Below is the "Letter of Appeal" we sent to keep our garden in the front. A few moms in the neighborhood supported us in presenting the case for front-yard food gardens at a board meeting.
The Board's response was initially encouraging. For a while, this appeal staved off further citations
Neighborhood moms who attended an HOA meeting to show their support for front-yard food gardens!
Why We Grow Our Own Food
Benefits of a Front Yard Food Garden
Dear Members of the governing board of the Fox Creek Homeowner's Association,
My name is Nicole Schauder. My husband David and I and our children have lived in Trumpet Circle for over 10 years. Around 5 years ago, we started gardening in order to grow our own food. Here are a few reasons that we grow our own food:
Our Children's Allergies
Homegrown Food is Healthier than Store-Bought
Homegrown Food is Cheaper
Homegrown Food Tastes Better
Community Friendships and Relationships
1. Our Children's Allergies:
Our children suffered from eczema due to food allergies soon after they were born.
After we found out our children had severe food allergies, this gardening project, quickly grew into a serious endeavor for us. We were desperately trying to search for alternative sources of organically grown, nutrient-dense produce. The food they were not allergic to.
We thought, there must be something wrong with the commercial food that we were buying. Especially, the food that was not organic.
Perhaps if we grew our own fruits and veggies, it might heal our children from their allergies.
Our son, Ethan at six months exhibits skin eczema that remains to this day
When our first child was 18 months old, she was diagnosed with "failure to thrive." This was due to the fact that she was allergic to wheat, legumes, tree nuts, beef, chicken, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
Our second child, similarly, suffered from allergies that included fish and nuts. One evening when he was three, we fed him tilapia for dinner. Shortly after eating the fish he turned blue and could not breathe. We gave him Benadryl (we had no Epi-Pen then) and called the paramedics.
The only foods they could safely eat with the exception of legumes and nuts were vegetables and fruits.
"The only foods they could safely eat with the exception of legumes and nuts were vegetables and fruits."
As already mentioned, we experienced health benefits by being able to grow and eat our own food. In the summer, more than 25% of our food consumption comes from our garden.
Since we started eating organic and from our garden, our two eldest children have outgrown many of their previous allergies except for most nuts. This is a tremendous burden that has been lifted off our shoulders. When we first found out that they were allergic, we had to ban certain foods from our home, learn how to cook allergy-free and discover where to source our foods. Now, the only thing they have to watch out for is nuts.
Our bottom four children were born with no allergy conditions. This was an amazing relief for us!
Since we started growing our own food, our own digestive disorders have been healed. My husband used to be more prone to stomach issues and now that is a very rare occurrence for any of us.
Even though we are considered a very large family of eight, we do not get sick as often as we used to 5 years ago!
2. Homegrown Food is Healthier Than Store-Bought:
Spinach loses 100 percent of its Vitamin C after only a week of refrigeration.
Five years ago, we had fewer organic food choices in the market than we have today. As we began researching our food, we discovered that commercially-grown food even if it is organic travels long distances to get to the stores and loses valuable nutrition in the process.
Astudy by Rickman, Barret & Bruhn, comparing the degradation over time of the amount of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in vegetables shows the following results:
3. Homegrown Food is Cheaper
The rising cost of groceries also
led us to grow vegetables in our front yard
When these fruits and vegetables finally hit the shelves of our grocery stores, organic options are more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.
Without looking at the infographic below one notices the price increases when shopping at the grocery.
4. Homegrown Food Tastes Better:
Our kids love the taste of homegrown vegetables and take special pride in growing it themselves
Our food tastes better when we grow it. We've only discovered how fresh figs taste vastly different from store-bought ones.
The same is true of tomatoes. No two tomatoes in our garden seem to taste alike.
It is the beginning of December as I write but we are still harvesting Jerusalem artichokes from our garden. Jerusalem artichokes are legitimate, juicy, delicious vegetables that help your body fight diabetes. When our neighbor Sandy tasted them she said:
"I am racking my brain to figure out what it tastes like and there's nothing I know that I can compare it with. I cannot figure it out. And yet, it's good!"
The same is true of fruit grown in neighboring gardens. Our neighbor, Aklima, who lives two doors to our right just gave me a Bangladeshi pumpkin to eat and to save seeds from. What a sweet and delicious pumpkin that was, quite unlike anything I've had from a grocery store.
This video shows you how deep to plant your seeds.
Aklima with granddaughter Farsana showing us her garden trellises made from pieces of wood and any sticks she could find
5. Community friendships and relationships
Aklima shows me how to properly cook Bangladeshi squash
We've started many conversations and forged many friendships because of our front yard.
We have helped build other gardens on Trumpet Circle and in the community. We have given away tomatoes, herbs, squashes, and pumpkins to our neighbors left and right to us.
I give zucchini bread or sweet potato muffins to Mr. Rucker on my right and hordes of tomatoes, squash, fig, cherry, pawpaw fruit (the largest native American fruit) to my neighbors on my left, Sedia and Aklima, the Bangladeshi grandmother featured above.
Aklima speaks no English, we only speak through the language of farming.
Down the road from us, a Vietnamese gardener named Wei brought us dates from her date tree which we readily turn into a delicious Chinese date butter. In exchange, we gave her rosemary and she gave us Thai sweet basil seeds for next summer.
On a street near us, Nicole asked us to design and help install her backyard because vegetables are a key component of her healthy diet. An initial investment of one day of hard labor turned into a seemingly endless summer of squash, basil, herbs, sweet potato and beautiful gigantic sunflowers for Nicole.
The pictures from her summer garden can be found HERE.
On our circle when French neighboring mom Awa came for a visit, she left with a parting gift of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme for her dinner.
Also on our circle, our good friend, Sandy was so happy when I showed her how to revive her Guatemalan "chiltepe" chili pepper: A plant snuck in from her homeland by an uncle.
Sometimes chiltepes be as hot as jalapenos, sometimes mild as white pepper. I dried them and use them as peppercorns. As you can see above, These peppers are not only edible but beautiful plants!
She also tells me that back home in Guatemala they use fig leaves to cure cough ailments by boiling and steaming the fig leaves in water. I learn so much from this form of “cross-pollination” of garden and food knowledge from my neighbors.
Sandy asks us some gardening questions
6. Environmental Impact
A bee loving our anise hyssop (Agastache)
Since the installation of our front yard, we have seen the return of the American Goldfinch to our area. These yellow birds are the strictest of vegetarians and love to feed on our blooming echinacea flowers (both medicinal for humans and food for birds) which we planted in our front yard.
Our Concord grapevine cools our red brick wall in the front from the direct sunlight that occurs during the summer months. The grape leaves are a Middle Eastern delicacy that we have used to make dolmades. Unfortunately, the grapes this year were sour! However, we are hoping for a better yield next year. Meanwhile, its cooling effect has helped us decrease our air conditioning needs in the summer.
We plant milkweed in our front garden. The endangered monarch butterfly relies on milkweed for its sustenance. There is a concerted effort across the country to plant milkweed and thus, to "Save the Monarchs."
We have also spotted the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly which is the only other pollinator for our pawpaw trees.
Rodents are definitely a health hazard so we have "rodent-proofed" our backyard garden compost with a mesh grill.
Our 4ft X 4 ft double compost bin system has a metal mesh that prevent entry on all sides even the bottom!
We compost any rotting vegetables immediately. Our compost can get up to 170F even in the winter and that kills all bad bacteria as well as rodents.
We intentionally chose plants that would deter pests. In the front, we have rodent-deterrents in the form of herbal aromatics like mint, lavender, thyme, parsley, sage, and oregano.
1. How can you ensure your garden is pest-free?
2. Why do you need to grow in the front yard?
We also encourage the Trumpet Circle cat, "Pumpkin" to linger at our doorstep.
There are only some of the natural pest control devices we use.
We also are aware of other natural rat traps and bait. Since rodents (including squirrels) cannot burp, they implode when they eat baking soda. Baking soda hidden in flour and sugar is often an effective trap for killing rodents.
The main attraction for rodents is the garbage that people put out a day too early.
After hosting a webinar on "Going Zero Waste" with an inspiring young woman who had kept her waste to the size of a Mason jar for the last 6-months, we have become a "going zero-waste" family.
Currently, we only put out one trash bag (in a can) per week on Tuesday mornings. We have extensively reduced our trash and we hope to do even more.
Furthermore, both our front and backyards are havens of biodiversity that have built up checks and balances so that the predators of rodents, such as owls and birds are present in our yards
We also have other natural, non-pesticide techniques for managing animals other than rodents.
The more we studied about intensive, organic vegetable gardening, the more we tried to apply our knowledge to our backyard garden. But since our property faces the south, we discovered that planting in our south-facing front yard greatly increased our fruit and vegetable yields.
The results were much more effective than planting in our backyard. Plants need sunlight to grow more vigorously.
This is the reason why we started to plant edibles in our front yard.
There are many great books on Edible Landscaping not least of which are Rosemary Creasy's "Edible Landscaping," Brie Arthur's "Foodscape Revolution," and Michaek Judd's "Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist." But be preared to design with both aesthetics and food production in mind. It can be done! We've managed to tuck our tomatoes, lettuce and basil between lovely rows of yarrow, sage and peonies!
2. Learn Edible Landscaping
This garden is in a town that hosts home and garden tours. The owner has incorporated edible fruit trees and native flowering plants such as Rudbeckia and Echinacea among her beds.
My HOA application for redesigning the front yard included this brochure and garden design. Below were some intial the results from the planting
3. Read about a resident who not only overturned HOA regulations in her own village but in the entire state!
4. Talk to those who will listen
If your HOA will not hear you out and continue to impose sanctions for front-yard violation, don't be afraid to keep on sharing your love of growing food with those who will listen.
Despite HOA restrictions to growing in the front yard, we have opened our home to group tours in order to inspire other homeowners in the Northern VA area that one can grow 200 lbs of produce on a piece of land less than 1/27th of an acre!
We've conducted live workshops in our home or the local libraries as well as online webinars which we hold on a myriad of permaculture topics.
(In 2022, we moved to a 3-acre farm in Leesburg and continue to offer tours and in-person workshops from our home. There is no HOA where we currently live.)
Recently, we have been in touch with the Asst to Supervisor Koran Saines, Jacqueline Pujol regarding the design and selection of a site that could potentially serve as a community garden for the Sterling area.
Most inspiring for us, we started and continue to maintain a permaculture garden in the courtyard of Rolling Ridge Elementary School.
We teach an after-school eco/gardening club for students K-5 and through the help of administrators, parents, local landscapers, 2 boy scout troops, several teachers, a grant from the Whole Foods Foundation as well as the Jane Goodall Foundation, and volunteers, we have sustained our school garden club these past 3 years.
(Since writing the above, we have also established gardens in collaboration with middle schools and elementary schools elsewhere. A lot can be done when people are willing to do good work together!)
An article published about our front garden in Green America
Want to learn how to design an HOA-approved permaculture garden?
Attend our workshops below!