MIAMI – In a blow to freedom and property rights, a Florida judge has ruled that residents of Miami Shores do not have a fundamental right to grow vegetables in their front yard, even if they don’t have a backyard or their backyard is deficient for growing plants.
Miami Shores officials say the ordinance benefits neighborhood aesthetics.
The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Monica Gordo is a blow to the well-publicized case of Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll, a married couple who say their backyard is too shady to grow a garden.
The couple grew vegetables in the front yard for 17 years for health and financial reasons until the Miami Shores village government passed an ordinance banning front yard vegetable growing. Ricketts and Carroll were facing a $50-a-day fine.
“This Court is not convinced that the prohibition of front-yard vegetable gardens impairs any fundamental right” Gordo wrote in her Aug. 25 opinion. “… The Court finds that the prohibition of vegetable gardens except in back yards is rationally related to Miami Shores’ legitimate interest in promoting and maintaining aesthetics.”
She added that “protecting aesthetics is a legitimate government purpose.”
The couple was represented by the Institute for Justice, which offered experts who argued that vegetables “do not have an intrinsically good or bad visual quality” and “are not aesthetically degrading,” but Gordo wrote that the city’s law was a “value judgement” that she would not second guess.
The Institute for Justice said it will appeal the ruling.
“Today’s ruling affects every homeowner in Miami Shores who wants to grow a garden in their front yard,” said Institute for Justice attorney Ari Bargil. “The court agreed that Miami Shores never explained how banning front-yard vegetable gardens promotes its claimed interest in ‘aesthetics,’ but the court nevertheless ruled that the village has the power to ban these gardens anyway.”
Their garden was known as one of the more attractive ones in the area.
“I am disappointed by today’s ruling,” Ricketts said. “My garden not only provided us with food, but it was also beautiful and added character to the community. I look forward to continuing this fight and ultimately winning so I can once again use my property productively instead of being forced to have a useless lawn.”
Bargil noted that if Ricketts and Carroll wanted to “grow fruit or flowers or display pink flamingos,” the town would have been fine with it.
“They should be equally free to grow food for their own consumption, which they did for 17 years before the village forced them to uproot the very source of their sustenance,” he added.