Fences needed for gardening projects

January 14, 2022

I attended the Lewes Mayor and City Council meeting Jan. 10 to respectfully request either an exemption from or a change to city zoning code. This was denied, as detailed below; I continue to argue my case, as detailed below: My family and I moved to Lewes a year ago, and we love living here!

Since our move, I have spent hundreds of hours on an organic regenerative gardening project, plus interpretive materials and a recent certification as a National Wildlife Federation wildlife habitat.

I planted fruit trees, bramble berries, blueberries (in pots to start), a water garden, tons of flowers, and many other annuals and perennials to provide food for humans, flowers for pollinators and beauty for all.

I have been amending the soil with rock dusts, compost, kelp and more, to remineralize the soil.

My intention is to grow as many different varieties as possible, for an eventually four-season garden that interplants food, flowers, shrubs and trees; showcases native and rare heirloom cultivars; and provides habitat restoration in our front and back yards.

I want to demonstrate the incredible beauty and bounty that are possible when you forgo some portion of a Green Lawn Desert.

My plans involve putting up a professionally designed, low-visibility 7.5-foot fence (removable black steel poles; black see-through poly mesh) around the perimeter of our front yard to keep out deer. Deer, as I’m sure you know, are aggressive and voracious herbivores who will happily eat flowers, gardens, shrubs and trees to the ground; will leap solid fences that are 6 feet tall, and ignore all sorts of smelly deterrents, and especially like to eat while gardeners are sleeping. I have not yet planted my blueberry bushes in the front yard, nor many flowers and other shrubs to attract pollinators, because they would then be vulnerable to immediate or near-future consumption by deer. My proposed fence will be additionally planted and maintained with tasteful landscaping throughout the year.

According to the Delaware Nature Society: “Butterflies, birds and other wildlife [but not deer!] are in decline in part due to habitat loss and pesticides. Running a lawnmower emits 11 times more pollution than a new car. Household lawns cover 40 million acres – more than any commercial crop – and account for 10 times more herbicides per acre than agribusiness.”

Many neighbors stopped by over the summer to express support for our project, and when I told them that my intended fence violates current zoning code, many expressed further support for requesting a code change.

I respectfully request an exemption from code compliance in order to protect my blueberry bushes in 2022 (an official application for a variance costs $1,250, and I have been told it is very unlikely I would get one based on the nature of my request), and I further ask that the Lewes building code be changed to allow non-opaque perimeter fencing for deer exclusion specifically when used for regenerative/organic gardening projects.

Creating diverse ecosystems to meet our human needs must be encouraged whenever possible, and switching over to sustainable ways of living, recreating, working and growing our food does not happen overnight.

Lewes is ahead of the curve because so many residents already value clean air and clean water, and fresh, local food. In order to grow this food and make local gardening practical and accessible, we need demonstration gardens like mine to showcase some of the many ways that each of us can create beautiful and healthful habitat and food systems in our own back and front yards. 

Overdevelopment has made the deer population an ever-growing adversary in this quest, and allowing for fences (and future zoning changes to encourage urban and suburban food farming) will help encourage the resilience our community needs in order to thrive in the coming decades.

Many resources exist (such as this organization if local government chooses to prioritize sustainability: Local food ways are our best hope for a better tomorrow!

Sarabeth Matilsky
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