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EDITORIAL: Justice blooms for gardeners

Americans have used their own properties to grow food to feed their families since before America was America. But the case of Florida’s rogue gardeners serves as a reminder of the dangers that overzealous bureaucrats and elected officials can do to property rights and common sense.

Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll have lived in Miami Shores Village for more than two decades. Their backyard doesn’t get enough sunlight so, for 17 years, they grew vegetables in their front yard.

By all accounts, their front-yard garden was neat and well-kept. Ms. Ricketts worked as an architect, and created a unique landscape that was often admired by the couple’s neighbors. According to the Institute of Justice, a public-interest legal firm that defended the duo, the couple went to great lengths to care for the garden, weeding and pruning the vegetables nearly every day. When she retired, the garden continued to provide a welcome creative outlet as well as healthy food.

That is until the local government stomped all over it.

According to a report by the Miami Herald, the Miami Shores Village Council amended its zoning code in May 2013 to ban front-yard vegetable gardens with the goal of protecting “the distinctive character of Miami Shores Village.” Unable to afford fines of $50 per day, the couple was forced to dig up the cabbage, spinach, beets, scallions, tomatoes and eggplant they’d been growing for nearly two decades.

In November of that year, Ms. Ricketts and Mr. Carroll joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge the silly ban. A judge rejected the couple’s argument and a state appeals court later upheld the ruling, finding the couple did not have a constitutional right to grow vegetables on their property. The couple then appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

Ms. Ricketts and Mr. Carroll were undaunted, however. While their garden sat empty, their lawyer petitioned state lawmakers to pass legislation that would protect the right of Floridians to grow vegetables and fruit on their own property. The bill passed both chambers earlier this year. On June 24, Gov. Ron DeSantis put his signature on the measure.

“This is a small but useful reminder that the people run the show in America,” the bill’s sponsor wrote in a text to the Miami Herald. “Not an overreaching government.”

Ms. Ricketts, who has dealt with health issues she says were brought on by the stress of the legal battle, told reporters that she is excited to return to her garden, which she calls “her healing place.” She added that, “Gardening is wonderful. I feel victory. … I have no words.”

After the law went into effect, Mr. Carroll wheeled Ms. Ricketts into their garden where they watched neighbors, friends, and Institute for Justice law clerks plant heirloom squash, cherry tomatoes and jalapeño peppers. With the proper amount of water, soil and sunlight, the garden is sure to bear fruit — and bear witness to the power of the people over punitive bureaucracies — for years to come.

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