If you think you have the constitutional right to plant vegetables in your front yard, you should think again. Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carrolls of Miami Shores, Florida grew a vegetable garden in their front yard for over 17 years until the Miami Village Shore Council suddenly imposed a ban on it in 2013 – all because the garden somehow did not fit the city’s “aesthetic character” (1).
“There certainly is not a fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard,” said Richard Sarafan, the attorney for Miami Shores (2). “Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes.”
But many have disagreed (7, 8, 9) – and, in many ways, rightfully so. Here’s the perplexing story of the Carroll family and their battle for the right to grow vegetables in their own front yard.
Hermine and Tom’s story: Government Bans “Ugly” Front Yard Vegetable Garden
For 17 years, Hermine Ricketts and her husband, Tom Carrolls, grew organic vegetables in their front yard in South Florida, harvesting some 75 varieties in the process (6). But in all their years together, they never faced any serious legal opposition against the look or function of their vegetable patch.
“My garden not only provided us with food, but it was also beautiful and added character to the community,” reported Hermine to the Miami Herald (3).
But things changed 2013, when the Miami Shores Village Council – an elected board of five elected local politicians – claimed that their garden was inconstant with the city’s “aesthetic character” (1). According to the Council, front yards were to be kept neat, with grass, fruits, trees, flowers, and/or garden decorations, while vegetable gardens were to be kept out of sight, in the backyard. The Council eventually gave the couple a troubling ultimatum: Get rid of the garden or pay a fine of $50 every day (1)!
Dismayed, Hermine and Tom got rid of their garden – and sought legal help to regain their right to grow vegetables in their front yard. In November 2013, the couple joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) – a libertarian non-profit law firm based in Arlington, Virginia – and the organization quickly filed the case at court (4).
“If Hermine and Tom wanted to grow fruit or flowers or display pink flamingos, Miami Shores would have been completely fine with it,” said Ari Bargil, the couple’s lawyer at Institute for Justice (3). “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.”
Unfortunately, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida ruled against Hermine and Tom in 2016, claiming that “no fundamental right or suspect class is affected by the Village of Miami Shores’ prohibition of vegetable gardens except in backyards” (5). But the couple isn’t giving up.
“I am disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Hermine, on the day they received the disappointing news (3). “[…] 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.” (3)
Indeed, the Institute of Justice filed an appeal following the ruling. As of October 2017, the case is still being processed by the District Court of Appeals of Florida.
What You Can Do to Fight the Ban
The ban on front yard vegetable gardening is a growing issue in the United States. Many people, especially those whose livelihoods could suffer without front yard vegetable gardens, have faced the same perplexing ban (7, 9). In 2011, Julie Bass, a mother of 6 in Oak Park, Michigan, almost had to serve 93 days in jail for growing vegetables in her own front yard (8)!
Luckily, front yard vegetable growers have the support of at-home gardeners and property owners all around the world (7). Here’s a list of ways you, too, could help fight the ban on front yard vegetable gardens:
- Put pressure on local politicians. Check to see whether your city and/or state has a policy against front yard gardening and if so, voice your concerns to your local policymakers (5). Similarly, demand that lawmakers review and specify the terms of the ban. For instance – is it possible to grow vegetables in the front yard if they are technically flowers, like courgette flowers? Similarly, could the ban make exceptions for people who have no backyards and/or face financial strain without a front yard vegetable garden?
- Support online campaigns to oppose the ban on front-yard vegetable gardening. Keep your eyes open for social media campaigns or petitions against this issue, similar to this one from Sugar Creek, Missouri.
- Raise awareness for the issue of front-yard vegetable-garden banning.Inform those around you about the legal difficulties people could face when growing vegetables on their own property – and encourage others to take action.
- Consider donating to non-profit groups and law firms that take on cases for front-yard vegetable gardeners. You can donate to the Institute for Justice here and the Freedom Center of Missouri here.
There’s nothing wrong with demanding that one maintain one’s front yard to match a city’s aesthetic guidelines. But it would be foolish to assume that a well-arranged vegetable garden could not look as visually pleasing as a yard full of flowers!
- InstituteForJustice. (2017). City Forces Homeowners to Destroy Veggie Garden. [YouTube] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=45&v=avHrPbONTzE [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Agorist, M. (2017). Govt Bans Growing Food, Forces Family to Destroy Front Yard Garden — Now They’re Fighting Back. [online] The Free Thought Project. Available at: http://thefreethoughtproject.com/govt-bans-growing-food-forces-family-destroy-front-yard-garden-fighting/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Ovalle, D. (2017). Court upholds Miami Shores ban on veggie gardens. [online] miamiherald. Available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-shores/article97915197.html [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Institute for Justice. (2017). Florida Vegetable Gardens – Institute for Justice. [online] Available at: http://ij.org/case/flveggies/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Gordo, M. (2016). Order on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [online] Ij.org. Available at: http://ij.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/RICKETTS-v-Signed-Order.pdf [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Swerdloff, A. (2017). This Couple Is Suing Miami for Their Right to Grow a Vegetable Garden. [online] Munchies. Available at: https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/8qekaz/this-couple-is-suing-miami-for-their-right-to-grow-a-vegetable-garden [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Halligan, S. (2017). Support pours in for Sugar Creek family forced to destroy their front yard vegetable garden. [online] KSHB. Available at: http://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/support-pours-in-for-family-forced-to-destroy-their-front-yard-vegetable-garden [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- KIRPALANI, R. (2017). Woman Faces Jail for Veggie Garden in Lawn. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/US/vegetable-garden-brings-criminal-charges-oak-park-michigan/story?id=14047214 [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].
- Roland, D. (2017). City Officials in Ferguson Attempt to Bulldoze Citizens’ Rights, Gardens. [online] Freedom Center of Missouri. Available at: http://www.mofreedom.org/2012/07/city-officials-in-ferguson-attempt-to-bulldoze-citizens-rights-gardens/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2017].