Last week in Florida, a judge ruled on an ordinance banning front yard vegetable gardens. This allowed the upscale village of Miami Shores to take legal action against residents who to grow food in their yards on the grounds that vegetable patches are “ugly.” Seems, in at least one part of America, that growing your own food is now a crime.
“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 Judge Monica Gordo. The town insisted it has the right to regulate the look of the community.
Her 10-page ruling included lengthy legal analysis of makes up a vegetable. (Outraged home farmers suggested someone assess what makes up a “nut”). Despite her ruling, Gordo conceded that she wasn’t quite sure how a home food garden can ruin property curb appeal.
The court’s case focused on a three-year long legal battle between Florida versus Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts, who – for 17 years – had used their front yard to grow organic vegetables. Their neighbors had never complained, but by violating a state law that requires yards to be grass-covered, the duo were facing a fine of $50 a day, retroactive to 2013. (Contrast that with the 2014 Dubai initiative to pay residents nearly $3,000 to grow their own veggies, or Japan’s scheme to rent out hydroponic plots to city dwellers.)
Plant this in your head: a state law that mandates grass lawns on private property, in a state maximally vulnerable to climate change.
“There certainly is not a fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard,” Richard Sarafan, attorney for Miami Shores, said at the start of the case. “Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes. Not every property can lawfully be used for every purpose.” He stated at a June hearing that vegetable gardens “are fine in Miami Shores, as long as they remain out of sight in the backyard”.
In the US, if you live in a community controlled by a homeowners association, or in a condominium or cooperative apartment, you are beholden to the codes and processes set forth by their associated boards. In this case, the property in question is privately and wholly owned, and not subject to a uniformity code, particularly not one applied decades after they planted their first seeds.
“I am disappointed by today’s ruling,” Ricketts said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “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.”
“If Hermine and Tom wanted to grow fruit or flowers or display pink flamingos, Miami Shores would have been completely fine with it,” said their lawyer, Ari Bargil with the Institute of Justice, “They should be equally free to grow food for their own consumption.”
The defendants have no intention of uprooting their garden. They can petition the Village Council to change the ordinance, or as the judge advised them, they can also “support candidates for the Council who agree with their view that the ordinance should be repealed.”
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