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This Couple Is Suing Miami for Their Right to Grow a Vegetable Garden

A couple in South Florida has found themselves on the wrong side of the law, simply because their garden is located on their front lawn.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jun 24 2016, 12:00am

Photo via Flickr user normanack

Anyone who has ever tried to plant a garden in their yard knows that finding a spot with enough sun to grow vegetables can be a formidable challenge. You take the sun where you get it, and sometimes you find it not where you—or your neighbors—want it to be. Thanks to this conundrum, a couple in South Florida has found themselves on the wrong side of the law, simply because their garden is located on their front lawn.

Married couple Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts have been planting and harvesting vegetables in their small South Florida front-yard garden for over 17 years. Ricketts, an architect, takes special pride in the design she came up with for the landscape. Neighbors compliment her often, she says. To date, the couple has grown some 75 varieties of organic vegetables there.

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Sadly, in 2013, all those years of heartfelt labor came crashing to a halt after the Miami Shores Village Council—an elected board comprised of five local politicians— decided to pass a new zoning ordinance that effectively banned local homeowners from having a vegetable garden in their front yard. The zoning plan was passed in 2013, and the couple was forced to dig up their organic vegetable garden in the face of repeated warnings and a fine of $50 a day.

Jump forward three years, and the couple has taken the Miami Shores Village Council to court for what they perceive to be a violation of their constitutional rights.

The Institute for Justice, which describes itself as a libertarian public interest law firm, is representing the couple. The lawyers there say the ordinance is an "affront to gardeners everywhere" and denies the Miami Shore couple their constitutional rights.

Richard Sarafan, the lawyer representing Miami Shores, had this to say about the married couple's claim: "There certainly is not fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard. Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes. Not every property can lawfully be used for every purpose."

Florida isn't the only state with a municipality that is against front-yard gardens. In Sugar Creek, Missouri, Nathan Athans was told to move his garden to the backyard or face fines. A new regulation in that town says that gardens have to be at least 30 feet from the road—which means the backyard, at least in Athans's case. Too bad there's no sunlight there, he says.

READ MORE: Gardening Is Better Than Antidepressants for Some Mentally Ill Patients

But the craziest garden-infraction story must be the one from Oak Park, Michigan back in 2011, where Julie Bass, a mother of six, faced 93 days in jail for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard. A city ordinance in that community said that only "suitable" plants could be grown on front lawns. Although the ordinance did not say exactly what that means, Kevin Rulkowski, a local city planner, said it meant shrubs, grass, and flowers. Charges against Bass were eventually dropped.

Are front-yard gardens really a menace to society worthy of lawsuits, jail terms, and large fines? Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts may soon bring a new definition to the term "victory garden."