- By Kenya Woodard Post Capital Correspondent
The Florida Senate Community Affairs committee on Tuesday gave a green thumbs up to a bill that prohibits cities and counties from regulating where residents could grow vegetable gardens.
The bill is inspired by a battle between the Village of Miami Shores and village residents Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll.
Five years ago, the village council ordered the couple to uproot a 17-year-old vegetable garden they lovingly grew in the front yard or face a daily $50 fine.
They took the village to court with the help of Injustice Institute, a national nonprofit that seeks to limit government size and power. But in November, the Florida 3rd Court of Appeal backed the village’s decision, saying it has the right to regulate landscaping and design in residential neighborhoods.
Unsatisfied, Ricketts and her husband have taken their case to the state Supreme Court, where the case is still pending. But fearing they could not pay what might have been a hefty fine while they appealed the local law, Ricketts and Carroll have uprooted their garden.
According to the bill, counties, municipalities or other political subdivisions would be prohibited from regulating “vegetable gardens on residential properties” and any regulation imposing restrictions on vegetable gardens would be “void and unenforceable.” The proposal includes exceptions for regulations related to water use during drought conditions, fertilizer use or control of invasive species.
In the committee meeting, Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, made an enthusiastic case for the bill (SB 1776), which he co-sponsored with Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.
“That’s what we’ve come to – home-grown gardens are outlawed,” Bean said.
Local governments should not be able to restrict the rights of residents to grow their own food, he continued.
Americans growing their own food is as American as apple pie, he said, but “ironically, apple pie would be illegal if it’s from a tree in a garden in your front yard.
Also ironic? The number of the bill, he said.
“1776 – it’s America,” he said. “Let’s join together and say we are preserving our county’s core values and that is the right to grow our own food.”
Bean’s plea elicited laughter from the audience, but also some scrutiny from fellow committee member Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.
“Having said all that, this still is a preemption bill, correct?” he asked, referring to the flood of bills moving through both the House and the Senate this session that attempt to strip local governments of their powers.
“Correct,” Bean responded.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, suggested changing the bill’s “strong language” so that local governments could have the flexibility to “reasonably regulate but not prohibit” the location of vegetable gardens.
“I doubt that any one of us in our neighborhood would want to have an entire front yard, for example, done as a garden that’s got corn that’s 10 feet high or eight feet high,” Simmons said.
The bill also was met with opposition from the Florida League of Cities, whose legislative counsel, David Cruz, said it omits some key issues related to home gardens.
For example, the bill doesn’t restrict the gardens to personal consumption or limit their size. Also, it does not address the safety issues that can stem from unharvested crops, Cruz said.
“The goals here is we want to maintain property levels high at the local level,” he said.
Rewriting the bill to allow local governments “reasonable regulation” as recommended by Simmons “would be a step in the right direction,” Cruz said.