Lawyer: Fight for Miami Shores couple's vegetable garden 'is not over'

By Quinten Plummer | Sep 16, 2016

MIAMI SHORES – Last month’s loss in a Florida circuit court won’t be the death of a case involving a South Florida couple whose 17 years of living off the land in their front yard were shut down by a local ordinance, according to a civil liberties law firm.

About three years ago, the village of Miami Shores enacted a local ordinance that required at least two trees to be grown in front green spaces and restricted vegetable gardens, those grown for consumption, to rear yards.

After failing grow vegetables in their shaded backyard, Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts moved their garden to the front of their home. They managed to maintain and live off the front yard garden for 17 years, but that came to an end about three years ago will the village of Miami Shores enacted a new “Designs Standards” ordinance.

The ordinance required homeowners plant “grass, sod or living ground cover and a minimum of two trees” in all green space. And it restricted vegetable gardens to “rear yards only.”

Unwilling to pay the $50 a day fines they were threatened with, Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts uprooted their front-yard vegetable garden. However, the couple took the case to court.

Last month, a circuit court judge ruled in favor of the village and that “no fundamental right or suspect class” is impacted by the ordinance prohibition of front-yard vegetable gardens. Deferring to the rational basis test, the judge ruled that the prohibition on vegetable gardens was legitimately part of local government’s efforts to make front yard more aesthetically pleasing.

In the ruling, the judge reminded the plaintiffs that they could lobby to have the ordinance changed or pushed to elect local officials who would amend it. However, it appears this fight will continue on in court and the couple will continue to have the backing of the Institute for Justice, according to Ari Bargil, an Institute for Justice lawyer at the institute’s Florida office, who has taken up the couple’s case.

“This battle is not over,” Bargil told the Florida Record. “We intend to appeal this ruling to Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals and, if necessary, all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.”

The IJ took up the case because the couple is part of “nationwide movement of small-scale food producer and consumers who are tired of the government dictating what foods they can grow, sell and eat,” according to Bargil.

“This isn’t just about Hermine and Tom’s front-yard garden,” Bargil told the Florida Record. “This is about the right of all Americans to peacefully use their own property to support themselves and their families.”

While disappointed by the ruling, the IJ is still “as confident as ever” in merits and validity of the case, according to Bargil.

“Hermine and Tom’s rights under the Florida Constitution have been violated, and we believe the courts will ultimately vindicate their rights by striking down Miami Shores’ ban on front-yard vegetable gardens as unconstitutional,” Bargil said.

The Florida Record reached out to and received no response from the mayor, vice mayor and several council members of the village of Miami Shores.

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