Miami Shores Couple Files Lawsuit Over Ban on Front-Yard Vegetable Gardens

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 18, 2013

Miami, Fla.—May the government prohibit you from peacefully and productively using your own property to feed your family?

That is the question the Institute for Justice (IJ) and a Miami Shores couple have taken to state court in their challenge to Miami Shores’ unconstitutional ban on front-yard vegetable gardens. The law prohibits homeowners from growing vegetables in their front yards, but trees, fruit, and garden gnomes are just fine. Homeowners who grow front-yard vegetable gardens face fines of $50 per day.

For 17 years, Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll maintained a beautiful front-yard garden, where they grew vegetables for their own consumption, along with other plants. But in May 2013, Miami Shores’ Code Enforcement officers inspected Hermine and Tom’s property and informed the couple that they were engaging in an illegal activity: Growing vegetables in the front yard.

The city enacted the ban to protect the aesthetic character of Miami Shores Village. Yet it allows everything from trees and fruit to gnomes and flamingos in front yards. Just not vegetables. That sort of irrational distinction is unconstitutional.

“Miami Shores’ ban on front-yard vegetable gardens doesn’t make any sense. A yard does not become unsightly just because you can eat some of the things you grow there,” said IJ Attorney and lead counsel on the case, Ari Bargil.

The city threatened Hermine and Tom with fines of $50 a day, or about $1,500 per month, if they did not uproot the garden. Unable to bear the cost of such hefty fines, Hermine and Tom destroyed 17 years’ worth of passion and hard work.

“When our garden was in full production, we had no need to shop for produce. At least 80 percent of our meals were harvested fresh from our garden,” said Hermine. “This law crushes our freedom to grow our own healthy food. No one should have to expend time and energy dealing with such nonsense.”

The Florida Constitution protects the property rights of homeowners like Hermine and Tom, who want to use their property in a peaceful, productive manner without arbitrary intrusion by the government.

IJ’s challenge to Miami Shores’ front-yard vegetable garden ban is part of its new National Food Freedom Initiative. This nationwide campaign that will bring property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that interfere with the ability of Americans to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice. IJ is also challenging Oregon’s ban on advertising raw—or unpasteurized—milk and Minnesota’s severe restrictions on “cottage food” producers.

“Hermine and Tom are part of a nationwide movement of small-scale food producers and consumers who are tired of the government dictating what foods they can grow, sell and eat,” said IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas, who heads IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative. “This isn’t just about Hermine and Tom’s front-yard garden. This is about the right of all Americans to peacefully use their own property to support themselves and their families.”