For most lawyers, picking a food fight might be considered unprofessional. But in Miami Shores, Fla., that’s exactly what we did. As part of our National Food Freedom Initiative, IJ teamed with Miami Shores residents Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll to challenge the town’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens.
Hermine and Tom are a married couple who have lived in their modest Miami Shores home for more than 20 years. Their house faces south, which means the backyard is almost completely shaded during the best months for homeowners to plant gardens.
For more than 17 years, Hermine and Tom peacefully and quietly cultivated their front-yard garden, which included plants, flowers and vegetables. Hermine, a retired architect, saw her front-yard garden as a means to channel her creativity and passion for design. And the garden became a way for Hermine and Tom to eat healthier without having to pay for expensive produce.
They routinely received compliments for the beauty and creativity that the garden added to their community. In fact, the entire time Hermine and Tom maintained their garden, nobody—not a resident nor a city official—ever voiced any disapproval.
That all ended last spring when the city passed an amendment to its zoning code that confined vegetable gardens to “backyards only.” Fruit, flowers and flamingos are legal, but not vegetables. Hermine and Tom had become outlaws.
Despite Hermine and Tom’s 17-year history of growing vegetables without incident, Miami Shores claims it received an anonymous complaint about the front yard just days after the ordinance was passed. After appearing twice before the town’s stubborn code enforcement board to plead their case, Hermine and Tom were told to destroy the garden or face fines of $50 per day.
Hermine and Tom did not feel they had a choice, and so they uprooted all their work. But now, they are fighting back. In November, Hermine and Tom teamed with IJ to vindicate their fundamental right under the Florida Constitution to use their property in a peaceful, productive manner without the arbitrary interference of the government.
All Hermine and Tom want to do is grow food for themselves. But this is not just about them. Hermine and Tom are part of a nationwide movement of small-scale food producers and consumers who are tired of the government dictating to them what they can grow, raise and consume. After all, if the government can tell people what to plant in their front yard—and therefore, what they eat—what can’t it do?
In the days that followed the filing of our lawsuit, Hermine and Tom received an outpouring of support and media coverage, both nationally and internationally, cheering them on in their constitutional battle against the city. Importantly, Hermine and Tom’s lawsuit will mark the first time a Florida court has been asked to address the question of whether the right to grow food on one’s property is a fundamental right. A victory in this case would have national implications for property owners in the Sunshine State and beyond. And that is exactly the plan.
Ari Bargil is an IJ attorney.