If you didn’t know already that there is a war going on all across North America against eggs, dairy, meat and now, even fruits and vegetables produced in a home based or small farm setting, this recent story from my home state of Florida should help jolt you awake.
For the past 17 year, Hermine Ricketts, a retired architect, and her husband, Tom Carroll have maintained a lovely garden in the front yard of their middle class Florida home. They chose the front yard because the back yard is very shady and doesn’t get enough sun for the garden to thrive.
Hermain’s edible garden included okra, sweet potato, broccoli, kale, lettuce, eggplant, onions and a dozen or more varieties of Asian cabbage.
As you can see from the picture above to the right, the garden is well maintained and not an eyesore which could damage neighborhood property values.
This past May, the city of Miami Shores decreed that Hermaine and Tom’s garden along with any others like it, would have to be removed. What’s more, the new zoning ordinance fined any owners who refused to comply $50/day to keep their gardens.
The ordinance specifically disallowed vegetables from being grown in front yards in order “to protect the distinctive character of the Miami Shores Village.” Fruit, flowers and shockingly even cheap, tacky, plastic flamingos made in China are fine.
Hermaine and Tom twice appeared before the Miami Shores Code Enforcement Board and were denied an exemption despite the fact that their garden was well maintained with no complaints from neighbors, used a water-efficient drip-irrigation system and has been lovingly tended for 17 years.
Frustrated and discouraged, the couple dug up their garden by the August 31 deadline rather than pay the city $1500/month in fines. Now, only a few fruit trees are left, including a papaya. Near the edge of the front lawn, a plastic, pink colored flamingo stands, which Ricketts says is a symbol that “It’s OK to have a cheap plastic thing shipped in from abroad, but it is illegal to plant organic vegetables in your front yard.”
She and her husband “are already feeling the impact of shopping for overpriced organic food,” she added in a statement made to the Miami Herald last week.
Last week, the Institute for Justice got involved and filed a lawsuit against the city of Miami Shores on Hermaine and Tom’s behalf.
Attorney Ari Bargil said the lawsuit is not about money. He wants to see the zoning ordinance declared unconstitutional so that Hermaine and Tom are free to peacefully grow their garden again as they did for 17 years.
The Florida Constitution recognizes the inalienable right of privacy for its citizens even more broadly than the US Constitution according to Bargil, and as such the ordinance would have to promote “a compelling governmental interest” and be “narrowly tailored to advance that interest” not to infringe on this basic right.
Bargil warns that while cases like this may seem small, it is a slippery slope to government intrusion on private life. “If the government can tell you what you can and can’t do in your front yard, what else can they decide is off-limits?”
Miami Shores Village Attorney Richard Sarafan disagrees. He said, “It’s not easy to overcome a municipality’s right to regulate aesthetics.” He went on to claim that gardens are “not harmonious with our community. This is not an agricultural zoning area.”
This dispute is not a rare situation across North America. As the trend for producing some of one’s food in a home based setting has taken hold and grown in recent years, others have faced a similar predicament.
According to Florida Watchdog, Ron Finely of Los Angeles and Adam Guerro of Memphis, Tennessee were both found guilty of violating city gardening ordinances. Both men chose to challenge the ruling and eventually prevailed.
Others did not fare as well. While Denise Morrison of Tulsa, Oklahoma waited for her court date to arrive, local authorities destroyed her vegetable garden. Some have even faced jail time for gardening such as Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan (the charges were eventually dropped).
And who could forget the case of 4 year old Rosie in South Dakota who earlier this year had to remove the small garden she tended in an unused area outside the backdoor of the subsided housing development she shares with her disabled mother at the insistence of a USDA subcontractor? Due to extreme negative publicity of Rosie’s situation via the alternative media including this blog, an embarrassed property management company promised to build the family a new raised bed vegetable garden in the spring of 2014. In addition, the garden will be available for other tenants of the complex.
First they came for the raw milk farmers,
and I didn’t speak out because I don’t drink raw milk.
Then they came for the free range egg farmers,
and I didn’t speak out because I am allergic to eggs.
Then they came for the home gardeners,
and I didn’t speak out because I don’t have a garden.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
adapted from poem from pastor Martin NiemÃ¶ller (1892—1984)
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist