People have used their property to grow food since the dawn of modern civilization. Americans are no different. Our national identity is rooted in the Jeffersonian ideal of farmers and settlers. Even as fewer people earn their living as farmers, many Americans still use their property to grow food. In these difficult times, countless more are discovering their property as a potential food source. They are planting vegetable gardens for the first time.
But some overzealous regulators consider a vegetable garden to be something else—a banned use. As a result, some well-intentioned homeowners run afoul of complicated zoning ordinances. Some zoning codes explicitly prohibit vegetable gardens, while others regulate what property owners can plant and where they can plant it. The penalties for violating these ordinances—even in the midst of a pandemic—can be steep.
Front-yard vegetable gardens are not an eyesore. Municipal governments should not mimic the enforcement zeal of local homeowners associations. Now more than ever, vegetable gardens benefit local communities. Here’s why:
Promote Food Security & Stability
All Americans have faced challenging stay-at-home orders over the past several months. Though grocery stores remained open, many vulnerable Americans were instructed to stay indoors. Many others lost their jobs and food affordability became a major concern. But allowing property owners to grow food on their own property can limit unnecessary social interaction, as well as provide a secondary source of food following job loss or supply-chain problems. This is not without precedent. During World War II, the federal government encouraged Americans to grow their own vegetables in so-called “victory gardens” to help alleviate food shortages during the war effort. Local governments should do so again.
Protect the Environment
As supply-chain disruptions illustrated, many Americans rely on fresh fruit and vegetables grown thousands of miles away—even outside the U.S. entirely. Transporting produce great distances relies on fossil fuels. On the other hand, a home garden is an easy, immediate source of organic, pesticide-free food. There is no better way to “eat local” than to grow food in your front yard.
Promote Healthy Living
There is nothing more wholesome than fresh vegetables and greens. And the act of gardening has been shown to have physical and psychological benefits. As stay-at-home orders persist (or are reenacted) local governments should encourage citizens to get out of their homes for safe and healthful endeavors like gardening.
What Can State Legislators Do?
Enact IJ’s model legislation that:
- Prevents explicit prohibitions on vegetable gardens;
- Limits burdensome regulations that restrict what property owners may grow; and
- Encourages homeowners to experiment with landscapes that blend ornamental and edible items.