Florida couple still fighting for their vegetable garden
On one hand, the government says it wants Americans to eat healthy.
On the other, there’s this story about a couple in Florida being forced to uproot their 17-year old organic vegetable garden because it ran afoul of zoning laws in Miami Shores.
The Associated Press reports that Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts are suing Miami Shores after the town threatened to fine the couple $50 per day for their front-yard vegetable garden. Under zoning rules passed in 2013, such gardens are allowed only in the back yards of Miami Shores homes.
At a hearing earlier this month, an attorney for the couple said the ban on vegetable gardens violates the Florida Constitution by imposing an improper limit on how private property can be used.
“It’s important that we have the right to do something on our own property,” Carroll told the AP. “We’re just trying to grow vegetables.”
An attorney for the couple added that they are not trying to argue “you can do anything you want on your property,” but merely that growing vegetables is protected by the state constitution.
That’s an important point, because it’s certainly possible to imagine situations where a local government might want to use zoning laws to regulate public property in the interest of the common good.
Civil libertarians might argue that all of these regulations – everything from noise ordinances to mandatory building set-backs – are, strictly speaking, a violation of the right to private property.
But that’s not really the issue here. Carroll and Ricketts aren’t hosting rock concerts on their front lawn, and they’re not drilling for oil.
Miami Shores’ zoning ordinance requires front lawns be covered with grass, sod or “living ground cover.” In other words, the front yard of a house may not be covered with dirt, sand or stones (as is common in beachfront communities) – it has to be green and living.
Two attributes, by the way, that perfectly describe vegetable gardens.
But officials from Miami Shores disagree. Growing a vegetable garden is just fine, as long as they remain out of sight in the backyard, said Richard Sarafan, an attorney for the town, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
As Watchdog reported when the lawsuit was launched in 2013, the zoning ordinance is designed to “protect the distinctive character of the Miami Shores Village.” It specifically prohibits vegetables – not fruit, trees or even plastic flamingos – from appearing in front yards.
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It has been nearly three years since the couple launched their lawsuit, with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm based in Virginia. They are still waiting for a final ruling in the case.
Miami Shores isn’t the only town to declare war on front-yard vegetable gardens.
Ron Finely of South Los Angeles and Adam Guerrero of Memphis were also found in violation of city gardening ordinances, though they eventually prevailed.
But Denise Morrison of Tulsa, Okla., wasn’t so lucky. Her edible garden was largely destroyed by local authorities while she waited for her day in court. Julie Bass of Oak Park, Mich,. faced 90 days in jail for her home-grown veggies. The charges were eventually dropped.
A couple in Orlando was threatened with fines of $500 per day because their vegetable garden ran afoul of the city’s zoning ordinances.
All these attacks on what people do with their own lawns begs one huge question: how long before officials in Washington, D.C., show up at the front door of the White House to tell Michelle Obama that her vegetable garden on the South Lawn has to go?