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Is it illegal to Grow Your Own Food

Many of us are concerned right now about the availability and safety of fresh food across our nation. Most of us live in states that are now mandated to shelter in place or stay safe at home, many people who have never had a garden or grown any kind of food for themselves, are considering doing just that. Some of you may be concerned about whether or not it is legal to grow your own food. The short answer is, it is absolutely legal to grow your own food, and there has never been a better time to start!

But first, a little History.

We all know that farming/gardening is one of the world’s oldest professions. In order for humankind to exist, we had to eat and that meant before villages, towns, cities, and worldwide commerce, people grew their own. Fast forward to now, when the vast majority of the world’s population purchases rather than grows their own food. To look at it through a more modern historical lense, let’s recall the Victory Gardens from World War I and World War II.

Small garden built on the balcony in the apartment

Okay, so I know I can grow my own food, but are there limitations?

Depending on your municipality, there are certain limitations to growing your own food, but with a little creativity, everyone can do it!  Whether you live in a small town, a suburb or a high rise in a large urban setting, there are many gardening options available for you. Some of these include:

  • Front yard gardens
    • Check with your local municipality on rules and regulations – most often the largest restrictions are municipal setbacks, which simply means the number of feet from the curb/sidewalk you must be before the edge of your garden can start.
    • If you have an homeowner’s association there may be limitations to front yard gardens check your rules and contact your HOA before starting.
  • Patio/Container gardens
    • A popular option for multi-unit housing complexes. Check with your HOA or management office for any limitation on size, scope, or water capture options. In some cities there are even locations that offer rooftop gardening/container gardening for residents.
  • Public Garden lots
    • Available in several municipalities throughout the country, public garden lots are a very popular option for many urban gardeners (and a great way to meet other gardeners!). Contact your municipality for locations, cost (if any) and restrictions.

If none of these options are available to you, as long as you have a sunny window and a countertop or table, you can grow your own food indoors! Tabletop gardening can provide a surprising harvest of leafy greens, and even small tomato plants, and most definitely herbs! If you are lacking window space you can take your indoor garden further with grow lights.

microgreens growing on windowsill

I have never grown my own food, what are some of the best things for me to grow?

Focus on the necessities. Begin by growing the basics that provide the option for both immediate consumption as well as things that can or freeze easily for later use. While the list below is not comprehensive, it offers a good cross section of garden staples that will give you a lot of flexibility:

  • Leafy greens – Spinach, Kale, Microgreens (so easy on a countertop!) Swiss Chard
  • Peas
  • Green Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Herbs
  • Potatoes
Rain barrel in the garden

I know what I want to grow and where, what about watering?

Water is essential to any garden, but is not always a readily available resource. People often have questions about rain barrels or the rules and regulations on water capturing and reuse. These questions are best answered by doing your research locally. Water laws vary from state to state and even from municipality to municipality. Some states are so restrictive, you are not even allowed to capture rain from your personal property in any capacity, while others have very few restrictions. Once you learn your limitations, reusing rainwater is a wonderful way to keep your garden healthy. The most popular way to do this is with rain barrels (available at your local garden supply store and many online locations). If your space is too small or not conducive to rain barrels, even setting empty buckets out for rain capture will do!

I don’t just want to grow fruits or vegetables, what are some other popular options for growing my own food?

Second only to growing your own garden, is raising your own chickens. Backyard chickens have become increasingly popular across the country and many locations now have a wealth of information and resources for those interested in it. Some locations are even witnessing a surge in raising ducks and quail as well. All of these options are great ways to provide you and your family with fresh eggs daily. Raising your own chickens requires a lot of upfront work to establish your coop and doing your research on the birds you want may take some time, but once you have done the legwork, it pays off! Always start by checking with your local regulations.

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two chickens in the back yard, one chicken is grey and white and the other chicken is brown

What about bees?

Beehives are another popular option for growing your own food (who doesn’t love fresh honey?), and while subject to more restrictions and certainly subject to space restrictions, it can be a beneficial addition to any home garden.  There are endless resources available for beginning your own hives, don’t be afraid to research and find out what might work for you!

As we face uncertain times, the power of growing our own food no matter how big or small, offers us the comfort and satisfaction of providing for ourselves while nourishing our bodies. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and get started, there has never been a better time!


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