FOR 17 YEARS, Tom Carroll and his wife Hermine Ricketts tended an organic garden in the front yard of their home in Miami Shores Village, Florida. They grew everything from arugula to zinnias, mostly for home consumption. Then, one day in August 2013, disaster struck.
It wasn't a hurricane, a flood, or a drought. It was the government.
Armed with a newly amended zoning ordinance geared toward home aesthetics, Miami Shores ordered the couple to uproot their vegetable garden or pay $50 a day in fines. The village would tolerate fruit trees, flowers, or even plastic pink flamingoes in the front yard, but the veggies had to go. The couple couldn't afford the fines, so they reluctantly agreed. And then took Miami Shores to court.
The Miami Shores vegetable standoff is part of a nationwide turf war, pitting locavores, environmentalists, and property rights activists against bureaucratic busybodies. In Orlando, a couple faced $500 in fines per day for growing lettuce instead of lawn. Ferguson, Missouri--yes, that Ferguson--cited a stay-at-home dad for daring to plant a garden in his front yard. The Detroit suburb of Oak Park, Michigan, threatened to send resident Julie Bass to jail for three months for her gardening.
"I find it almost incomprehensible that in 2015 there is even a controversy about whether people should be allowed to grow food," Bass says. "That's pretty absurd."
Government vs. Gardens
Wanting to avoid pesticides and artificial fertilizers, Carroll and Ricketts realized it was cheaper to cultivate their own food than to buy organic. "With a garden, I can just go out and harvest the exact amount I need for a single meal," Ricketts says. "Nothing goes to waste."
Since their home faces south, the backyard garden is heavily shadowed during Florida's fall and winter planting season; winter vegetables "don't do too well in the back yard where there isn't enough sun," Ricketts explains. But when the couple planted in the front yard, "production was so abundant."
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.
Then, in March 2013, the village council for Miami Shores altered its zoning code. Previously, the regulation simply stated, "Vegetable...