You Didn’t Grow That.


Hermine Rickets and her husband, Tom Carroll seem like nice people who simply want to grow vegetables.

For nearly 20 years, the couple did just that in the front yard of their home in Miami Shores Village, Florida, a suburb of Miami, Florida.

How successful was the garden?

During the garden’s salad days, Carroll and Ricketts cultivated nearly 100 different types of vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs, and flowers. When the plot was in full production, “80 percent of my meals could come from the garden,” Ricketts says. Bountiful harvests meant that the couple could share the fruits—and vegetables—of their labor with family and friends.

It does not matter one iota, but the couple’s desire to garden in their front yard was driven by several factors. First, they wanted to enjoy fruits and vegetables where they controlled the fertilizers and pesticides. Secondly, as their home faces south, a garden in the front was far more bountiful than one planted in the relative shade of the back yard.

As we said, their reasoning for the garden doesn’t matter. It is their property and as long as they aren’t harming anyone, they should be able to grow veggies on their property wherever they want.

The “harm issue” leads to the question “was there harm in the garden?” Short answer: nope.

[Tom Carroll] said he had never gotten a complaint from a neighbor in all the years he tended the garden, which grew some 75 varieties of vegetables.

In review, we have private property, people growing veggies and fruits, and no harm to any neighbors.

Who would object to that?

The Village Council of Miami Shores, that’s who.

Then, in March 2013, the village council for Miami Shores altered its zoning code. Previously, the regulation simply stated, “Vegetable gardens are permitted in rear yards.” That provision was tweaked to read, “Vegetable gardens are permitted in rear yards only” (emphasis added). With just one word, a beloved garden became a public enemy.

Carroll and Ricketts found themselves hauled before the Miami Shores Code Enforcement Board in August 2013. Ricketts and the Board sparred over the definition of a “vegetable.” One board member demanded, “Are you cultivating these vegetables?” The board ruled against the garden and threatened the $50 daily fine; the couple had no choice but to uproot their plants.

(Can’t you just hear the disdain for people’s rights in the question “Are you cultivating these vegetables?” What’s next? “We’re from the vegetable police. Turn around and face the wall….. Do you have any eggplants or zucchini on you?)

Up to the plate (the vegetable plate, if you will) stepped the folks at the Institute for Justice. (We have written about the IJ before on everything from the evil that is civil forfeiture to the state of Florida not allowing natural skim milk to be labeled as skim milk.)

After waiting almost three years, yesterday a couple from Miami Shores Village, Florida finally got their day in court. Nearly 20 years ago, Hermine Rickets and her husband, Tom Carroll, started growing vegetables in their front yard. But in 2013, Miami Shores Village, Florida amended its ordinance to prohibit front-yard vegetables gardens. The couple joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge the ban, and [on June 8th], a judge heard their case.

As we write this, the judge has yet to issue a ruling and we will try and follow-up with that ruling when it is issued.

digforvictory-400pxHowever, this argument from the Miami Shores attorney caught our eye:

Despite the government’s attempt to fine the couple, Richard Sarafan, an attorney for Miami Shores, claimed “There is no vegetable ban in Miami Shores. It’s a farce. A ruse.” At the hearing he defended the village’s actions by claiming that “Aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes. Not every property can lawfully be used for every purpose.”

During World War I and World War II, citizens were encouraged by Federal, state and local governments to grow food in every space they could. The aptly named “Victory Gardens” and “Freedom Gardens” were vital to the war effort as the US was able to devote more food to the military without causing hunger here on the home front.

By 1944 Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables grown in the United States. More than one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.

Is Sarafan seriously saying that by encouraging people to grow vegetables, the government was supporting citizens to do something outside of the Constitution?

That’s the only logical conclusion of his position.

And to his statement that “aesthetics and uniformity are legitimate government purposes,” we would ask not only “what is that purpose?” but also “is he nuts?”

This is a nation built on diversity and a lack of uniformity. We are a nation full of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. We should celebrate and encourage diversity and what it brings to the melting pot that is America rather than seek to oppress it.

What’s next from Miami Shores? An edict saying each lawn must look the same? If the government can say “uniformity is a legitimate government purpose,” that means that some Council member could persuade people that certain plants must be on the same location and the same size on everyone’s front lawn.

In other words, coming soon to your neighborhood, “Village Azalea Enforcement.”

The sad thing here is not only that Rickets and Carroll had their property rights trampled upon, but to get to a point where they could even get a court date to have the case heard took three years. Furthermore, because of the time of year it is now, they have lost this growing season as well.

Not only have they incurred costs, but the taxpayers of Miami Shore are paying for this ridiculous case to be prosecuted in a court.

All this because some group of people decided they wanted people’s property to look the same.

The Institute for Justice has a short video on the case:

Frankly, we don’t ever advocate violence, but there really are times when we wish we could. Can we just take the officials and lawyer out into a garden and beat them over their heads with a corn stalk wrapped by copies of the Constitution? Would that get the message across that governments are there to protect the rights of people, not trample upon them?


It wouldn’t work.

But we can dream.

NOTE: We want to thank Matt Powers of the Institute for Justice who took the time to answer our emails, and grant us use of the image of Hermine Rickets and Tom Carroll. Cases like this are never cheap and we would recommend that if you can, you support the Institute for Justice in any of the many ways they have available. After all, you never know when your city may take aim at you.

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