Front Yard Vegetable Gardeners Fights Back


Hermine Ricketts, vegetable gardening outlaw. Photo: Greg Allen, NPR.

I’ve got a tip for to city bureaucrats. Bust someone for growing vegetables in their front yard and you’ll be held up for ridicule around the world.

This time it’s the city of Miami Shores’ turn to make fools of themselves for forcing Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll to tear up the front yard vegetable garden they’ve tended for 17 years. NPR has the details here. Listen to that story and you’ll get to hear an especially ridiculous grilling from a code enforcement official.

It’s absurd when city codes single out “vegetables.” Broadleaf plantain is a vegetable and anyone who has a lawn is probably growing it. Many flowers such as calendula are edible. Broccoli is a flower. I could go on.

Let’s just say that we wish Ricketts luck with her lawsuit against Miami Shores.

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  1. I hate to do this, but in defense of City beaurocrats (of which, I am one) and code enforcement people (of which I am not)…… Most of those citations are complaint driven, it is the code enforcement person’s job to uphold the City Code (they don’t have to be such a jerk about it though), if they don’t do their job, the person that complained will just go higher in the government structure until they get satisfaction (these people that file complaints are usually victims of someone else that complained and now they want everyone to suffer, it’s a vicious cycle)most code enforcement people are not activly seeking out violations to write citations on, that’s why she was able to grow her veggies for 17 years without a problem, once the complaint is filed it must be addressed (even as a City beaurocrat, I have been a victim of anonymous complaints on my own property about trees, shrubs, you name it…….) I say this: Change the outdated codes that were enacted as a response to someone’s suburban utopian nightmare of manicured lawns and gumdrop shrubs! This is probably what will come of the Florida case. My City recently tried to legalize backyard chickens, someone started an anti-chicken campaign and the City Council lost it’s nerve and voted the ammendment down………….Sometimes you just can’t win……..

    • DRBREW–you may an excellent point. The city of Los Angeles is in the process of reviewing the entire municipal code which is full of outdated an contradictory rules. For instance, until recently it was illegal to grow and sell fruit flowers or nuts in a residential zone. But it was legal to grow vegetables. I was part of a group that helped change that and the planning department was very helpful in making the revision to the code. The comprehensive review they are undertaking (with citizen input) will take years. I’ll also note that both Napoleon and the Roman emperor Justinian inherited law books that were so bloated they just swept them away and started fresh (they were dictators, and could get away with this).

  2. I’ve mentioned this in the comments before, but it seems like everyone getting citations is black or hispanic. I’ve noticed it in multiple articles about this same phenomenon in multiple cities across the country.

    It seems to me that race plays a big part in this. Did a white person plant kale in their front yard? Call Better Homes and Gardens, lets do a photo spread! Did a black person plant something in their front yard? *Clutch pearls* Their messy lawn is bringing down our property values.

    • Sara A.,
      I had the same thought until I saw her husband was white. So, maybe miscegenation is at the root of this complaint(a race problem, nevertheless). At any rate, vegetables are not the problem.

      After 17 years with no complaints, it seems as though this could be grandfathered in even though that is not how grandfathering works. My chickens are not legal, but only my neighbor behind me and the one beside me can legally have any say in the matter. I suppose everyone who drives by can have a say about vegetables in the front yard. I wonder if my dandelions are going to get me in trouble.

      If I were them, I would have planted every edible, but ornamental flower and vegetable around. My neighbor planted blueberry bushes in her front yard. They look fine and the squirrels really enjoy them.

    • Sadly, racism does sometimes play a part in these sorts of disputes. I can’t speak to this case but I’ve seen it here in LA.

    • Intersting comment…
      Because I fit in in a couple ways.
      Code Enforcement was after me for a year recently, and rightly so. My front landscaping was most likely bringing down property values. I didn’t realize it was complaint-driven initially.
      And I didn’t have veggies planted – it was just dead and weedy.
      Tried re-seeding after dethatching, and to make a long story short – it didn’t work.
      Had somebody that knows what they’re doing pull out the tree, and re-sod the lawn.
      And I fixed about half dozen other things that needed fixing.
      The complaints have stopped.
      I’m an average white man in Riverside County. So the complaints in general aren’t just about non-white people. But now I’m looking to what I can do with three planter areas in the front yard, and would like to plant fruits/veggies, but in a way that looks good and won’t get anybody complaining. And I’m definitely not wanting Better Homes are Gardens to do a photo spread :-). I’d like to see photos of front yard landscaping that people have done that looks good and planned and fits in well to the surroundings. Bushes and low-growing types would work well for me, vines and tall growing plants won’t. I don’t mind mixing in flowers with the Kale and carrots :-), but looking for good looking examples of what others have done in the front yard that have worked well in a design sense, and that people don’t complain about.

  3. This really bugs me. How is it that front yard gardens have been demonized in today’s times? Is it conformity issues or some other? Gardens used to be a very important part of the household, think victory gardens. Why would anyone be against it?

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  5. I think people are just becoming aware of the environmentally destructive and personally restrictive codes that were enacted decades ago by cities that wanted to become the next suburban hot spot. My city was rural 30 years ago, but then they outlawed any kind of “farm animal” unless you have 2 acres. Including rabbits. Yes, rabbits are illegal on my half acre. Miraculously there’s no ordinance against veggies in the front yard – it probably never occurred to the lawmakers that anyone would want to do this.

    • I met a professor who is studying the history of the kind of codes we’re talking about here. I’ve been meaning to interview her. She made a good point that it’s important to research the reasons these codes were put in place–by doing so you can show that conditions are now different. For instance, early 20th century concerns about sanitation are no longer relevant. Now we are more concerned about food security and where our food comes from. Time to change those codes!

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