All Hermine Ricketts and husband Tom Carroll want to do is raise a few vegetables for their dinner table, just as they’ve done for nearly two decades.
But their city – and now the courts in Florida – have said no, so they will have to await the outcome of a bill that would restore the right to cultivate tomatoes, carrots or lettuce.
Defended by Institute for Justice, they filed suit against the town of Miami Shores Village, Florida, for abruptly amending its zoning ordinance to ban vegetable gardens from residential front yards.
Fruit, bushes, trees, plastic flamingos, garden gnomes and many more things are allowed.
But not vegetables.
That meant Ricketts and Carroll had to tear up the garden from which they had produced veggies for their own consumption for some 17 years.
Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Timothy Snowball pointed out that “growing food on your own land to provide for your family strikes at the very heart of individualism, independence and self-sufficiency.”
In their lawsuit, they argued the new zoning ordinance change was an unconstitutional deprivation of their inalienable rights to “acquire, possess and protect property” under the Florida constitution.
But judges all the way up the Florida court system sided with the city.
Most recently, the state Supreme Court refused to consider their case. The judges found that it was “rational” for a government to ban “the cultivation of plants to be eaten …. as opposed to the cultivation of plants for ornamental reasons.”
Ari Bargil, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, said the Florida Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the couple’s appeal is unfortunate not only for them, but for all property owners.
“That government can fine citizens, that it can force them to destroy the very source of their sustenance, all for the harmless act of growing vegetables is something that should disturb every Floridian – indeed, every American,” he said.
Bargil said “the message from the Florida courts is clear: The purpose of private property is to be decorative, not productive, and it’s government that gets to decide how you decorate it. That is a perverse view of property rights.”
Institute for Justice officials, however, said the Florida Legislature now is taking action, with a bill, SB 1776, addressing “vegetable gardens” already on the calendar.
The bill’s subject line is “Prohibiting local governments from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties except as otherwise provided by law, etc.”
Just days ago the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Rob Bradley, was approved by a state Senate committee 11-0.
The case has “brought international attention to an issue that affects all Americans: our food,” IJ said.
The organization said cultivating a vegetable garden in one’s own yard for consumption by one’s own family using traditional methods “is well within the background principles of property law.”
“That right cannot be taken away by zoning ordinances for the mere objective of harmonizing landscaping within a neighborhood, absent some actual and substantial relation to public health or safety.”