“So, the whole of my front yard is 100 percent edible,” says Jeri. "There’s not one thing — not even the hibiscus, which can be used for tea — that is not edible. I have fruit trees: lemon, lime. I have tomatoes, kale, cilantro, chard. We’re on our winter crop right now, so we have beets, celery root, and lettuce.”
Incorporating a little farming into our suburban lives has become fashionable — but the scale of Jeri’s farm is difficult to imagine — or commit to — especially given the unaccommodating zoning for her suburban Chula Vista street. But, it’s Jeri’s reason for cultivating this small farm that is the real story.
At the age of two, Jeri’s son, Soren, didn’t speak or make eye contact. “I was in denial, but my partner Brian [Soren’s father] kept saying, ‘There is something wrong with Soren.’
“We took Soren to the San Diego Regional Center — a place that provides services for people with disabilities — and they tested him but said they wouldn’t give him an actual diagnosis at that age. Then they started therapy treatment for Soren and a year later, at three, he was re-evaluated and they diagnosed him as autistic with an extreme BS speech delay.
“I was honestly in shock. I said, ‘This test is b.s., this is not real’ — denial, I think, is a mom’s protection. But as soon as I got out of that, I was, like, how do we fix this? A lot of people say, “It is what it is.” No. It’s not. I kind of say that Facebook saved my son, because I just got on Facebook and started reading people’s blogs trying to figure out what to do.”
The number of children diagnosed with autism has steadily risen in the past ten years. The Centers for Disease Control defines Autism Spectrum Disorder “as a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.” The center says that 1 in 68 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and though it can occur in any country, race, or gender, it is five times more common among boys.
“We put Soren in pre-school when he was first diagnosed, without letting the school know he had a diagnosis. We wanted to see what people that deal with kids all the time said about him. When the preschool addressed it with us — they said he couldn’t be in school without a full-time aide.”
During this time, Jeri searched for a way to cure Soren.
“There was a big movement about gluten-free, dairy-free diets for autistic kids. So, I’m thinking, Let’s just try this. Brian actually has celiac disease” — acute gluten allergy — “so there was a very good chance that Soren had it. We went gluten-free and dairy-free and within three weeks my son looked at me and spoke. From there we just started going down a rabbit hole, and the more research and changes we made, the more Soren improved.
“My son is unique. He has had stomach issues his whole life. He gets a rash on his body when he can’t process foods. It’s a sign to me. It clears up when we’re doing the right things.
“We did away with anything out of a can, no colorings, no msg, no preservatives. We changed our house water, we changed our drinking water, we did extensive vitamin-mineral cleanses, detoxifications...there’s a couple more things we want to do — unfortunately, the only thing that hinders us is cost. Insurance doesn’t cover anything. These doctors that we have, like the homeopathic one in London, insurance won’t even touch them. Chiropractic costs alone are close to $2000 a year.
“Some people think I’m crazy, but the majority of people I’ve come in contact with, if they go gluten-free, dairy-free, they see a change in their child. It floors me that more parents aren’t willing to try it.
“It’s hard, but what do you have to lose? Put all your food in Tupperware containers, put it away for 30 days, go 100 percent clean for your child. They might cry or whine, you may have to be in the kitchen longer, but see if it makes a difference. We’ve decided to do it as a family, as a unit, and that makes it easier, and we’ve all gotten healthier.”
Family yard to farmyard
As Jeri began to see the results in Soren, she increasingly transformed the family yard into a farmyard. I first noticed her front yard on a summer walk. The whole yard, every inch was used purposely. It was like looking at a contradiction — it was exuberant and lush, yet orderly.
There were squash blossoms as big as elephant ears, and Jeri was spraying something on them. My squash always does a mildew meltdown by late summer, so I wanted to know her secret.
“It’s a mixture of baking soda and water,” she said. “It’s the only thing that works on the mold these plants get.”
I asked her how she amends her soil to grow such stunning plants and she invited my husband and I into the back yard. Inside the house was a little girl who was about two — her daughter Josie — standing in the kitchen munching on a carrot. Through the sliding-glass doors leading to the back yard, I glimpsed a tropical retreat — there was a pool, a hot tub, and a hammock strung between two trees. Where was the farm?
We went outside and Jeri explained the layout: “The back yard is where I have all my tropical fruit — mango, papaya, and passion fruit. On one side of the house I have my beehive and over on that side I also have all my potatoes in barrels. It’s a really interesting way to grow your potatoes. They’re all in bins or barrels and they just keep growing. At the end of the day, you put a tarp down and flip over your barrel, you sort through the potatoes or sweet potatoes and put all your dirt back in your barrel and start over.