A Florida circuit court judge upheld a local ordinance last month banning front yard vegetable gardens in the Village of Miami Shores.
The ruling is the latest development in a case where local officials forced an otherwise peaceful couple to uproot their garden of 17 years.The decision is a “blow to property rights,” according to the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. The judgment extends throughout the South Florida community.
The nonprofit’s lawyers took up the cause of Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts three years ago when Miami Shores passed an aesthetics ordinance that specifically targeted vegetable gardens.
Unable to grow produce in their shaded backyard, the couple was told by local code enforcement officers to destroy their front yard plot or pay $50 a day in fines.
After attending two code enforcement board meetings, the couple was told they could appeal the board’s decision but would incur the fines during the appeal process.
Carroll and Ricketts dug up their garden and have been fighting for the right to replant it ever since.
Florida Watchdog helped propel the case to national attention in 2013.
According to the judge’s decision, the local government has immense authority to enforce “value judgments” on what it finds visually unpleasing.
“A legislative value judgment, such as a determination about the aesthetic qualities of vegetables or vegetable gardens, is not subject to judicial evaluation,” the ruling states.
“If Hermine and Tom wanted to grow fruit or flowers or display pink flamingos, Miami Shores would have been completely fine with it,” said IJ attorney Ari Bargil.
Miami Shores used the fact that Carroll and Ricketts consumed their vegetables against them.
The judge concluded that Miami Shores was entitled to decide the purpose of a vegetable garden is to produce food to be eaten, not to be aesthetically pleasing, and therefore the garden would be less aesthetically pleasing than other landscape options.
“I am disappointed by today’s ruling,” said Hermine Ricketts on Thursday. “My garden not only provided us with food, but it was also beautiful and added character to the community.”
The judge said the couple was free to petition the Village Council to change the ordinance.
“We will appeal this decision to make clear that all Americans have the right to use their property, peacefully and productively, to feed themselves and their families,” said Michael Bindas, an IJ senior attorney.