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Miami-Dade County

Supreme Court settles food fight, leaves ban on front-yard veggie gardens intact

If you’d like to plant a vegetable garden in the front yard of your home, forget about it. At least for now. At least if you live in Miami Shores.

Homeowners who had hoped the Florida Supreme Court would hear their case against the village, which bans such gardens, received discouraging news Friday when the state’s high court declined to consider their appeal.

Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll grew cabbage, spinach, beets, scallions, tomatoes and eggplant in their front yard and enjoyed fresh meals for 17 years until Miami Shores adopted a strict zoning law prohibiting such gardens in front yards. The couple, facing daily fines of $50, had to dig up their garden, which can’t grow in the back due to insufficient sunlight.

They have been challenging the ban through the court system for four years.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Hermine and Tom’s appeal is unfortunate not only for them but for all property owners,” said Ari Bargil, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice who has been representing the couple. “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.”

Miami Shores allows fruit trees, flowers, fountains, pink flamingos, gnomes and boats in front yards — but not vegetables.

“The message from the Florida courts is clear: The purpose of private property is to be decorative, not productive, and it is government that gets to decide how you decorate it,” Bargil said. “That is a perverse view of property rights.”

Miami Shores argued — and the courts concurred — that a city has the authority to regulate landscaping and design standards to protect its appearance and safeguard property values and would otherwise risk allowing eyesores. The Third District Court of Appeal ruled that it is rational for government to ban “the cultivation of plants to be eaten as part of a meal, as opposed to the cultivation of plants for ornamental reasons.”

Ricketts, who laments the loss of her green, sustainable lifestyle, said she was not surprised that the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

“This is government and the role of government is to control people’s lives,” she said. “It is an institution that people are afraid of.”

But the fight is not over for Ricketts and Carroll. Senate Bill 1776, which would prohibit local governments from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties, is alive in the Florida Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, passed its first committee review Tuesday.

Ricketts and Carroll hope a new law would “make clear that all Americans have the right to peacefully and productively use their property to feed themselves and their families,” said Michael Bindas, senior attorney and director of the National Food Freedom Initiative at the Institute for Justice.

Said Ricketts, who buys her veggies at the store these days: “The only entity that has benefited from this is Whole Foods.”

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