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Miami Shores Couple to Village: Let Us Grow Our Vegetable Garden

Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts are fighting city hall.
Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts are fighting city hall.
Courtesy of Institute for Justice

For 21 years, Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll have lived in a modest three-bedroom house in Miami Shores, a quiet village of about 10,000 residents with well-maintained houses and well-manicured lawns. There, the married couple grew vegetables on their front lawn for nearly two decades.

Ricketts, a retired architect, tells Short Order that she planted the garden, a combination of both edible produce and nonedible florals, to maintain a healthy lifestyle. "Look at the condition of the food we're buying now. The only way we can be sure of what we eat is to grow it ourselves.You can't get any more local than eating vegetables from your front yard."

See also: Potted Garden in Your Yard? Prepare to Pay a Fine!

She says in all the years of maintaining her garden, which changed seasonally, she never had any complaints. To the contrary, the garden, which contained everything from cabbage to strawberries, started conversations and helped make friends. "The only thing I've gotten about the garden are compliments. I share the produce with some of my neighbors, and it creates friendship and neighborliness."

Ricketts says she planted her garden in the front yard was because there was a lack of sun behind the house. "I spent years trying to grow beets in the back. Now they're growing beautifully. Beets are beautiful, by the way. They have wonderful red leaves."

Then, in early 2013, Miami Shores adopted a zoning ordinance banning front-yard vegetable gardens.

The ordinance states only:

(a) All green space shall be planted with grass, sod, or living ground cover and a minimum of two trees.

(b) The use of impervious material as ground cover shall be prohibited except for areas dedicated to vehicular driveways, patios, tennis courts or pool decks. Chatahoochie stone or similar materials shall not be substituted for grass, sod or living ground cover.

(c) A boat storage area of 200 square feet surfaced by gravel rock of one-half inch diameter, or greater, shall be permitted.

(d) Use of mulch as ground cover to enhance the growth of an adjacent shrub or tree is permitted in green spaces however; cypress mulch, shell, crushed stone pebbles, inorganic mulch, plastic, rubber and glass shall not be used.

(e) Vegetable gardens are permitted in rear yards only.

Asked for further clarification about the ordinance, Miami Shores' Village Manager Tom Benton told Short Order: "We don't comment on pending litigation."

Shortly after the code change, Ricketts and Carroll were told by Miami Shores to remove the garden or face fines of $50 per day. The couple dug up the garden and filed a lawsuit November 19, 2013, in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida against the Village. The 17-page lawsuit maintains that this is a "civil rights" issue and that they "seek nothing more than to grow vegetables on their own property for their own consumption." The lawsuit also states they are "unable to do so because the Village of Miami Shores prohibits residents from maintaining vegetable gardens in their front yards. This front yard vegetable garden ban violates the right of property owners to make peaceful and productive use of their property to feed themselves and their families." The couple are demanding that they be allowed to grow vegetables on their property, along with $1 in damages, reasonable costs, and attorneys' fees.

The Village of Miami Shores filed a motion to dismiss in January, 2014, stating, "Any resident of the Village may have a vegetable garden on their residential property, but it simply must be located in their back yard."

Yesterday, Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida's Judge Spencer Eig denied Miami Shores' motion to dismiss Ricketts and Carroll's challenge to the village's ban on front-yard vegetable gardens, which means the lawsuit will move forward to a final judgment.

Ari Bargil of the Institute for Justice and lead counsel for Ricketts and Carroll, tells Short Order that the case will move forward, with the final intent that the couple be allowed to replant their vegetable garden. "The government doesn't have the authority to institute arbitrary restrictions," Bargil says. "You can have fruit trees, but you can't have vegetables. It's an arbitrary designation."

Bargill is looking forward to the couple having their day in court. "All they want to do is to feed themselves and for the government to not tell them what to grow on their property. They'd like to do what they've been doing for 17 years without incident."

Ricketts is eager to get her garden back -- and allow other Miami Shores residents to grow vegetables on their property. "It's our right to use our property to grow our own food if we so choose. Fifty percent of houses in Miami Shores have their backyard facing the north side, so the village is saying to them: 'Tough tootie. You don't have a garden with sunlight, you can't have a garden.' At a certain point, government needs to back off if you're not harming anyone."

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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