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Is there a war on front yard gardens?

A Miami couple brought their case to court Wednesday, arguing that a city ordinance banning their front yard vegetable patch violates their Constitutional rights. 

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    Donna Smith (r.) and Robyn Streeter get ready to work in their vegetable and flower garden they created in the front yard of their Portland, Ore., in June 2010. Homeowners across the nation continue to fight city ordinances for their right to grow vegetable gardens in their front yards.
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When the Miami Shores Village Council adopted new zoning laws in 2013, South Florida couple Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts were forced to dig up their front-yard vegetable garden or face hefty fines. 

The couple sued the city, arguing that the ban violates the Florida Constitution by limiting their private property rights. And almost three years later, lawyers from both sides of the case presented their arguments to the court Wednesday and Circuit Judge Monica Gordo will issue a ruling in coming weeks. 

“On one side, Miami Shores homeowner Tom Carroll, who was ordered by the village to uproot his wife’s beloved front-yard garden or face fines of up to $50 a day. That’s unconstitutional, his lawyer told a judge – everything from fruit trees to plastic flamingos are allowed outside,” the Miami Herald wrote Wednesday. “On the other side: the close-knit, upscale Northeast Miami-Dade village, which insists it has every right to regulate the aesthetics of the community. Vegetable gardens are just fine, as long as they remain out of sight in the backyard, village attorney Richard Sarafan told the judge.” 

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As the growing season intensifies with the return of warmer weather to the Northern Hemisphere, the Florida case is only the latest example of home owners, who simply want to be industrious in their yards, transforming manicured grass lawns into a food source for their families, running into resistance from city ordinances. Although Victory Gardens were widely promoted during World War II as a way to support the war effort, and even the White House turned part of its South Lawn into a garden, neighborhoods across the country still remain largely split on aesthetic vs. productive front yards. 

Ms. Ricketts and Mr. Carroll spent 17 years tending to their front-yard passion. When the garden was in full production, it could supply 80 percent of the couple’s food source. But after a neighbor complained in 2013, the couple was forced to kill their front yard garden or face fines of $50 per day. 

“The battle, however, is far from over,” the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit libertarian law firm, writes on their website. IJ filed a suit for the couple in November 2013 as part of their National Food Freedom Initiative that focuses on similar cases across America. 

Ricketts and Carroll sued the city for $1. They say their lawsuit is not focused on financial compensation – they just want to get back to gardening.

“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,” says Michael Bindas, a senior attorney for IJ who leads the group’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.” 

In 2011, homeowner Julie Bass was threatened with 90 days in jail for her front yard garden in Oak Park, outside of Detroit. The case was later dismissed, but it could be reopened at any time. And in 2013, Orlando couple Jason and Jennifer Helvenston were threatened with $500 per day fines for their front yard garden if it was not replaced with “approved ground covers.”

In April of this year, a family in Sugar Creek, Mo., was forced to uproot their garden after the city passed an ordinance banning vegetable gardens located within 30 feet of the street. 

“Them coming and telling me I can’t have a garden, then what comes next? I just want to grow my own food and provide for my family,” homeowner Nathan Athans tells KSHB 41. Mr. Athans says he planted his garden in the front rather than the back of his house because it was the only section of his property with ample sunlight. 

Since the ban Athans has received support from homeowners across the country, and even across the world, dealing with similar ordinances.

“I appreciate everyone standing up with me on this, I don’t have to stand alone,” Athans added.

But some similar cases have resulted in different endings. A 2013 proposal to ban West Des Moines residents from planting gardens in their front yards was quickly killed after receiving sharp criticism from homeowners.

Such ordinances undermine true food security, say opponents.

“As global food prices rise, concerns are being raised about the potential environmental, health, and security implications of global food commodity chains,” write Robin Kortright and Sarah Wakefield in their study of household food growing. “By providing urban residents with the means to produce for themselves diverse varieties of high quality produce, urban gardens can contribute to the food security of individuals, households, and communities.”

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