December 1, 2013
The village of Miami Shores in Miami, Florida, brands itself as a progressive neighborhood that promotes “green living.” But local residents Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll have found that this is not exactly an honest designation, as village officials recently ordered them to uproot a family vegetable garden that they have been cultivating peacefully for some 17 years in their front yard, or else face daily fines of $50 per citation.
The couple was ordered to remove their garden back on May 8, 2013, just one day after a controversial zoning revision was passed that suddenly prohibited the planting of vegetables in residents’ front yards. However, the same ordinance oddly allows for the front yard planting of fruit trees, fruit plants and other so-called “kitsch” items like pink flamingos and garden gnomes, which some might argue are more obtrusive.
The couple has long grown vegetables in their front yard, because their backyard gets minimal sunlight, which makes it difficult to cultivate the types and amount of food they need to live. And their front yard garden has never been a nuisance, having always been cared for and manicured with love, and with no issues from any of the neighbors.
But Miami Shores officials wanted it gone, threatening the couple with daily fines if they did not uproot it. They repeatedly petitioned the city with formal requests to keep the garden, but the code enforcement board denied these requests. The couple eventually agreed to uproot the garden but are now suing the city for what they say is a blatant violation of their right to privacy.
“The right to grow and harvest your own food on your very own property is certainly part of that right to acquire, possess, and protect property,” says Ari Bargil, the couple’s attorney. Bargil works for the non-profit public interest firm Institute for Justice (IFJ), which took on the case. “A ban on front yard vegetable gardens makes no sense. A property and a front yard doesn’t become unsightly … simply because you’re growing vegetables.”
Ban on front yard vegetables is unconstitutional, says IFJ lawyer
Bargil says that the ban clearly violates Florida’s “Basic Rights Clause,” which upholds the right of Florida residents to use their properties for any peaceful and productive use that does not harm others. A basic vegetable garden, he says, in no way violates these provisions, and the village will have a tough time defending its position in court.
“Miami Shores will have to prove that its ban promotes a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to advance that interest,” reads an official IFJ press release about the case. “We’re not suing for money. We’re asking the court to rule that this law is unconstitutional so Hermine and Tom can plant their garden again.”
In the meantime, Hermine is continuing to tend to a few herbs and a papaya tree that remain in her front yard, as she hopes for the day that she will once again be able to plant all the food that she had before. Buying everything clean and organic from the grocery store, she says, can be expensive, and growing her own vegetables on her own private property is simply a basic human right.
“We are already feeling the impact of shopping for overpriced organic food,” she told the Miami Herald. “It’s okay to have a cheap plastic thing shipped in from abroad,” she added, referring to a symbolic, plastic pink flamingo she now has planted at the front of her yard, “but it is illegal to plant organic vegetables in your front yard.”
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