FL Senate gives right to grow veggies in the front yard a green thumbs up

The Florida Senate Thursday affirmed the right of green thumbs statewide to grow vegetable gardens in their front yards.

The 40-member Senate vote was 35-5.

Sen. Rob Bradley’s SB 82 prohibits a county or municipality from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties, voiding any current regulations regarding the produce patches.

bradley_Stand Your Ground

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island

Steve Cannon AP

Local governments, however, can still adopt a local ordinance or regulation that doesn’t specifically target vegetable gardens, like regulating water during drought conditions, limiting fertilizer use or controlling invasive species.

Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, filed a similar bill that passed during last year’s session, but the clock ran out and a House version was never filed. Lucky for garden enthusiasts, Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, has filed the House version (HB 145), which is identical in language. Her bill has passed through two of its committee stops, and has yet to be scheduled for a third.

The vegetable garden proposal is rooted in a legal dispute about an ordinance in Miami Shores that banned the gardens from being planted in front yards. Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll, who ate from their vegetable garden for 17 years, sued the village. In November 2017, an appeals court upheld a ruling that the couple does not have a constitutional right to grow vegetables in their front yard. They appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to grant review.

Ricketts and Carroll faced $50 in daily fines after the village amended its ordinance in 2013. They had to dig up their garden – which can’t grow in their backyard because of a lack of sun.

Ricketts Carroll tending

Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts in their front yard in Miami Shores on Dec. 13, 2017. The couple had to dig up their vegetable garden in their front yard, which they had for 17 years, after the Village of Miami Shores ruled their edible plants were not allowed to grow there. The couple took their case to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Senate SB 1776, filed on Jan. 5, 2018, argues that vegetable gardens at private homes are good for the state.

AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

“What we’ve seen over the last several years is a movement to locally source food to have food be more organic and be more natural and not have to be subject to so many preserves and chemicals so that it travels across the country,” Bradley said during the bill’s second reading last week. “Instead, it can be in your backyard to be eaten.”

The bill only preempts local government rules, not rules or gardening restrictions set by homeowners associations or other groups.

Opponents to the bill say it imposes upon home rule. The League of Cities, for example, maintains that the Legislature should respect local government’s authority to make decisions on ordinances for their communities.

Sen. Bobby Powell, a Riviera Beach Democrat who voted no on the bill, said it is too far-reaching.

“It allows them to grow not only vegetables, but a plot of land used for the growing of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers,” he said. “I think the exemption of this to restrain the development codes for every municipality on our behalf is an overreach.”

Bradley said he understands the importance of careful preemption and thinks “a standard was met in this case.”

“The world is changing when it comes to food. There’s a big interest when it comes to locally sourced food or organic products,” he said. “It is our role, our duty to review decisions that are made in the courts that uphold local government actions that violate property rights in the State of Florida … When you own a piece of property, you should be able to grow food on that property for your family’s consumption.”

Ari Bargil, the attorney who represented the Miami Shores family, said he’s glad the state is taking the issue seriously and hopes to get a similar reaction from the House.

“I applaud the Senate for its work to quickly pass this meaningful reform, and I look forward to the day where no Floridian would worry about crippling fines for the offense of growing cabbage,” he said.