• Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

“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.”

The front yard

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.”

Jeri with Soren and Josie

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.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


anniej Jan. 13, 2016 @ 11:16 a.m.

FASCINATING STORY - the detail provided to build the story was most interesting.

I have no doubt many parents of autistic children will be rereading and taking notes.

I am in awe of the great lengths and sacrifice these parents have gone to to help their child - THEY ARE AN INSPIRATION!

Sending thoughts for continued improved Health for Master Soren.

*as a side note, my husband spends many hours in our back yard planning, planting and harvesting the fruits and vegetable he toils many hours to provide - there is NOTHING like walking out there and picking a vine ripped tomatoe or harvesting a basket full of oranges, apples, pomegranates - etc. Mother Nature is bountiful!!!


PamelaSusann Jan. 13, 2016 @ 9:51 p.m.

It's great that this diet, an approach that has certainly been used among the autism community for years, worked for the child of this family. And to see urban farming arrive in Chula Vista! I hope the laws can be amended like those of La Mesa, Encanto, etc. to encourage more.


PamelaSusann Jan. 14, 2016 @ 8:48 p.m.

I agree Robert Reeser and Sjtorres. The success in the story for this family is countered by more that did not see any results in the pure, gluten free homeopathic diet. If a diet change was all that is needed, the "cure rate" for autism would be through the roof.


Sjtorres Jan. 13, 2016 @ 4:35 p.m.

Gluten-free cures autism and other quackery.


mystyinsandiego Jan. 13, 2016 @ 8:48 p.m.

I live in Chula Vista and are going as green as we can. Our family dreams of owning some chickens. The zoning laws need to change and keep up with urban farming. We asked two years ago about the number of chickens we could have on our property and told a certain number but waited for an email with documentation on that number to avoid issues later. After several attempts to get something in writing, we finally received a firm no because we were about 200 square feet too small. Perhaps there can be some movement to change these zoning laws.


jnojr Jan. 15, 2016 @ 7:28 a.m.

Just get a couple of hens. Nobody's going to know.


PamelaSusann Jan. 16, 2016 @ 12:43 p.m.

All it takes is a somebody to know and then the letter from the city arrives!


VigilantinCV Jan. 13, 2016 @ 10:06 p.m.

This is a beautiful story -- a wonderful change from all the horrible news we get every day. I, for one, hope that Chula Vista will alter their zoning laws. I would rather hear a rooster crow or the bleating sound of a goat than a yard full of yapping dogs.

What a wonderful family, I wish they were my neighbor . . . bah, humbug sjtorres!


Susan Luzzaro Jan. 14, 2016 @ 4:18 p.m.

It is most unfortunate and ironic that on the day this story came out this family received a letter from the city of Chula Vista telling them that pygmy goats are prohibited and to get rid of them by January 31 or they will begin to be fined.


PamelaSusann Jan. 14, 2016 @ 8:43 p.m.

My neighbor was told to do the same with a rooster and chickens. It would be great to see these zoning laws altered in CV.


Susan Luzzaro Jan. 15, 2016 @ 10:24 a.m.

Great News. I was contacted by the Autism Care and Treatment Today organization. They loved Jeri's story and have invited her to speak on their show.

Thank you, Luis Garcia l Program Assistant ACT Today! (Autism Care and Treatment Today!) 21600 Oxnard Street, Suite 1800, Woodland Hills, CA 91367 Office: (818) 340-4010 www.act-today.org l www.acttodayformilitaryfamilies.org


PamelaSusann Jan. 16, 2016 @ 12:57 p.m.

Thank you for getting the story out. There is a void of support services in south bay, which certainly makes this family that hopes to provide future support to others newsworthy. Alas, there will have to be major changes to code for this to happen. Families in east county and the back country have been able to offer programs simliar to what this mom envisions. Even some equestrian centers in the back country have addressed special needs. South bay certainly has the infrastructures to do the same so that driving north of the 805 is not required.


PamelaSusann Feb. 3, 2016 @ 7:30 p.m.

This story was referenced in a letter to the editor of the Chula Vista Star News of the irony of chula vista council deliberation regarding ordinances for pot cultivation and that this family was told to get rid of their animals because of "zoning" laws.


VigilantinCV Jan. 15, 2016 @ 8:26 p.m.

The best news would be that the City of Chula Vista would have a heart. They have been either unable or unwilling to close down a marijuana shop on Broadway, but they will throw the book at a family with two pigmy goats serving a good purpose. Kelley Bacon, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.


eruption Jan. 16, 2016 @ 1:14 p.m.

There are exceptions to every rule,how can we help make a change for this family?


joepublic Jan. 16, 2016 @ 2:47 p.m.

Here is San Diego City's code which permits pygmy goats. Maybe Chula Vista's city council should take a look at it. http://www.sandiego.gov/development-services/pdf/news/keepinggoats.pdf


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader