The Florida Senate Community Affairs committee approved of a bill on Tuesday that prohibits cities and counties from regulating where residents could grow vegetable gardens.
If the bill, originally filed in the Florida Senate as SB 1776 last month by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, sounds familiar, that’s because the battle has played out in Miami Shores for the past five years. In 2013, village residents Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll were ordered to uproot a 17-year-old vegetable garden they had grown in their front yard or pay a daily $50 fine.
The bill still has several more hurdles to pass before it can be officially voted upon.
In December, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld Miami Shores’ ban on front-yard vegetable gardens from a November decision, so the couple took their case to the Florida Supreme Court, where their fight is pending.
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According to the decision, “Miami Shores homeowners may have virtually anything in their front yard. They may decorate with garden gnomes, pink flamingos and trolls. They may park their boats and jet skis. And they are free to grow whatever trees, flowers, shrubs, grasses, fruits and berries they desire.”
But vegetables are nixed. The court said the village has the right to regulate landscaping and design in residential neighborhoods.
This could change if the bill passes.
According to the bill, “a county, municipality, or other political subdivision in Florida may not regulate vegetable gardens on residential properties. Any such local ordinance or regulation regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties is void and unenforceable.” The proposal includes exceptions for regulations related to water use during drought conditions, fertilizer use or control of invasive species.
In effect, what Ricketts and Carroll have been doing all these years is good for the state, SB 1776 argues.
“The Legislature intends to encourage the development of sustainable cultivation of vegetables and fruits at all levels of production, including for personal consumption, as an important interest of the state.”
At the committee meeting, Bean implied the bill’s number, 1776, was symbolic. “It’s America. Let’s join together and say we are preserving our country’s core values and that is the right to grow our own food,” the Palm Beach Post reported.
The argument, that the village’s restriction tramples on property rights, jibes with what the Miami Shores couple have argued all along.
“That’s what government does — interferes in people’s lives,” Ricketts told the Miami Herald after the December ruling. “We had that garden for 17 years. We ate fresh meals every day from that garden. Since the village stepped its big foot in it, they have ruined our garden and my health.”
They have since uprooted the garden while the case traveled through the courts.
But the bill isn’t a done deal as it has been met with opposition from the Florida League of Cities, as its representatives counter that the bill ignores safety issues from unharvested crops and doesn’t restrict gardens to personal consumption of the vegetables or limit the gardens’ size, the Post reported.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, suggested altering the bill’s “strong language” to allow local governments flexibility to “reasonably regulate but not prohibit” vegetable gardens — such as the one in Miami Shores.