In a win for gardeners everywhere, a Florida couple who battled the state for six years is enjoying the right to replant a vegetable garden that had brought them joy for years.
Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts of Miami Shores held a ceremonial replanting on July 1, the day a statewide law went into effect that nullified local bans on such gardens.
In 2013, Carroll and Ricketts of Miami Shores, a small burg of 10,500 Floridians that was originally a neighborhood within the city of Miami until it was incorporated as its own village in 1932, were ordered by town officials to do away with the vegetable garden that had been thriving in front of their home for 17 years.
From the sounds of it, a majority of Carroll and Ricketts' neighbors took no issue with the immaculately maintained front-yard fruit and veggie patch. Many likely envied it — and how could they not? Home to pomegranate and peach trees, strawberry and blueberry bushes and a wide array of leafy greens and colorful flowers, the garden was as beautiful as it was bountiful — a veritable front-yard salad bar. Sure, it stuck out amidst a suburban landscape dominated by polite, humdrum patches of manicured grass and aesthetically questionable statuary. But it was anything but unsightly — a good-looking, sustenance-providing sore thumb if there ever was one.
And as such, for years Miami Shores officials also took no issue with the couple's edible landscape.
Then came a new village zoning ordinance that called for front-yard conformity and dictated what residents could plant on their property. Vegetable gardens weren't outlawed outright but they were relegated to backyards. As reported by the Miami Herald, the crackdown was prompted by a complaint issued by a single neighbor. Whether or not said neighbor was new to the area or had simply been harboring ill-will toward Carroll and Ricketts and their garden for years is unclear. But the who didn't matter to this couple. Their backyard was too shady to grow vegetables, so that wasn't an option.
A garden worth fighting for
Faced with $50 per day fines for disobeying the new ordinance, Caroll and Ricketts (shown in the video above from 2013) were forced to uproot their not-grandfathered-in organic garden, which, in total contained more than 75 different types of vegetables including kale, onions, Swiss chard, spinach and Asian cabbage.
And as Ari Bargill, an attorney with Virginia-based nonprofit Institute for Justice pointed out to NPR back in 2013, only vegetables were singled out in the village-wide ban — not flowers, fruit or hideous water features. "You can plant fruit, you can have flowers, you can adorn your property with pink flamingos — but you cannot have vegetables," Bargill explained. "That is almost the definition of irrationality."
Despite the loss of their front-yard veggie patch, Carroll and Ricketts weren't going down without a fight. Represented by the Institute for Justice, the couple sued Miami Shores, claiming that the veggie-prohibiting ordinance violates their constitutional rights. The Institute for Justice said the couple's case "aims to vindicate the right of all Americans to peacefully use their own property to support their own families."
Three years later, the lawsuit unfolded in the Miami-Dade County courtroom of Circuit Judge Monica Gordo. During a June hearing, Bargill squared off against Richard Sarafan, an attorney for the village. The latter argued to the judge that the village was within its right to dictate what's grown in the front yards of homeowners while making it abundantly clear that vegetables are great, so long as they're kept out of sight in backyards.
"There is no vegetable ban in Miami Shores," he argued. "It's a farce. A ruse."
"There certainly is not fundamental right to grow vegetables in your front yard," Sarafan claimed. "Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes. Not every property can lawfully be used for every purpose."
The Associated Press noted at the time that Sarafan mentioned grass, sod and "living ground cover" as acceptable forms of front-yard vegetation within village limits.
Bargill and the couple did not win the case, and the ruling was upheld by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. They appealed to the state's Supreme Court, but the high court sidestepped the case. Instead, they turned their efforts to the Florida Legislature, and after two years, they succeeded in pushing through a law that would counteract all such local ordinances except homeowners' associations.
While the vegetables themselves have declined to comment publicly, Carroll has spoken on their behalf: "It's important that we have the right to do something on our own property. We're just trying to grow vegetables."
And as for Ricketts, she's ready to get back to gardening.
"You're down on the earth, touching the soil, kneeling on the ground. ... It's a healing process," she told the Miami Herald this week. "I'm hoping to get back in the garden and spend time outside doing things I love. The healing things in the sunshine."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was first published in 2013.