August 4, 2016
Florida may be known for its tropical climate and spicy Latin-American culture, but what it’s not known for is the freedom to garden. The southeastern state continues to make headlines over the state government’s contempt for front yard gardens.
Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts had been cultivating their garden for 17 years when their hometown, Miami Shores, passed a new ordinance restricting vegetable growing to the backyard. The couple begrudgingly dug up their lush garden in August 2013, after local officials threatened them with a daily fine of $50, according to reporting by Fox News.
Miami Shores fights longtime residents over front yard vegetable garden
The ordinance was a component of a new zoning plan adopted by the town, which has a population of about 10,500 people, and is located just north of Miami.
The South Florida couple sued over the garden ban, arguing that it was a violation of the state’s Constitution, because it included “improper limits on their private property rights and violation of the equal protection clause by singling out vegetables over other plants.”
The couple’s attorney argued at a hearing in June 2016 that barring them from growing vegetables anywhere on their property violated their Constitutional rights.
“We’re not saying you can do anything you want on your property,” attorney Ari Bargil told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Monica Gordo. “We are simply saying you can grow vegetables on your property and that is protected by the Constitution.”
Growing vegetables is not a fundamental right, says community lawyer
Richard Sarafan, the attorney for Miami Shores, countered that the new zoning rule was not “irrational and treated all homeowners the same: their front yards should be covered with grass, sod or a ‘living ground cover’ not further defined. It’s no problem, he said, to have a vegetable garden in the backyard,” according to reports.
“There certainly is not fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard,” Sarafan said. “Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes. Not every property can lawfully be used for every purpose.”
On Thursday, August 25, a Miami-Dade judge upheld the ruling, indefinitely banning front yard gardens. Circuit Judge Monica Gordo ruled that while she doesn’t understand the argument that front yard gardens destroy aesthetics in neighborhoods, the city nonetheless has the right to ban them, according to the Miami Herald.
Judge: City has ‘every right to decide front-yard veggies make a neighborhood ugly’
“Given the high degree of deference that must be given to a democratically elected governmental body … Miami Shores’ ban on vegetable gardens outside of the backyard passes constitutional scrutiny,” wrote Gordo.
The ruling is a big disappointment for the South Florida couple, who love to grow a variety of organic vegetables including okra, kale, lettuce, onions, spinach and several varieties of cabbage.
“I am disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Ricketts, whose legal battle with the city lasted three long years.
“My garden not only provided us with food, but it was also beautiful and added character to the community. I look forward to continuing this fight and ultimately winning so I can once again use my property productively instead of being forced to have a useless lawn.”
Meanwhile, the upscale community maintains its right to regulate the area’s aesthetic. Vegetables are fine as long as they’re out of sight, said the community’s attorney at a hearing in June.
A ‘blow to property rights’
The only recourse the couple has is to ask that the ordinance be revised or vote in new council members, said the judge.
“They can petition the Village Council to change the ordinance. They can also support candidates for the Council who agree with their view that the ordinance should be repealed,” wrote Gordo.
“If Hermine and Tom wanted to grow fruit or flowers or display pink flamingos, Miami Shores would have been completely fine with it,” said the couple’s lawyer, Ari Bargil, a representative from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm.
“They should be equally free to grow food for their own consumption, which they did for 17 years before the village forced them to uproot the very source of their sustenance.”
The firm called the ruling a “blow to property rights.”