Senate approves bill to ensure rights to grow veggie gardens

The vegetable garden bill seeks to prevent local governments from banning anyone wishing to grow veggies in their front yard.

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  • | 11:36 p.m. March 27, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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A proposed state law aims to keep local governments from having any say on what you grow in your front yards.

The bill, known as the vegetable garden bill, is sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, a Republican representing District 5 in northwest Florida. 

Senate Bill 82, which passed the Senate with a 35-5 vote Thursday, March 21, will prohibit local governments from regulating vegetable gardens and overrides any existing ordinance regulating front-yard vegetable gardens, if passed by the Legislature. 

The House version of the bill, House Bill 145, has been approved by one of three committees and needs House approval before it would be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. 

Bradley believes being able to grow your own food is a basic property right and government regulations constitute a “vast overreach.” He filed the bill after hearing of a court battle in Miami Shores involving an ordinance that prohibited front-yard vegetable gardens. 

Following the legal dispute, a couple was forced to uproot a garden they had maintained for two decades because of the threat of code-enforcement fines amounting to $50 per day.

“The world’s changing when it comes to food,” Bradley said. “There’s a big interest in locally sourced food, organic products and folks growing their own food. The idea that a government would intervene to prohibit someone from taking matters into their own hands and growing their own fresh fruits and vegetables to take care of their own family and their own nutritional needs — much like our forefathers have done — I think that is an action by local government that goes too far.”

But some opponents of the bill said the bill should at least allow local governments to restrict the size and locations of the gardens to protect the property values of surrounding homes. Others believe the bill is an infringement on Home Rule and unnecessary.

“Once again, the Legislature wants to intrude upon local government’s and its residents’ right to decide what is best for their community,” Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said.

The town has no ordinance regarding gardens, but Bruhn believes the issue is better handled using common sense, particularly in cases that might impact a neighbor’s property values.

“If someone wants a garden in their backyard, I don’t see an issue,” he said. “I believe the issue is when people want to put a garden in their front yard and it would impact neighboring property values. Local government has a responsibility to maintain certain standards regarding property maintenance and upkeep. To take it to extremes, a property owner might want to turn their front lawn into a cornfield.”

Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary said it’s best for local government leaders to work closely with residents to shape local communities, adding that the process helps make every community unique. 

“I believe that all the elected officials are trying to do what they believe is in the best interest of their constituents in the state, but I would say that when we talk about an overreach by local governments, I think this is an overreach by the state government,” Leary said. “We have this Home Rule issue continually, and I think if everybody stays in their lane and does what they’re supposed to do, we will really have a special place to live locally, statewide and nationally. ... Perhaps if front-yard gardens are really so important to someone, then perhaps they can choose another city to live in. We all do things a little bit differently than one another to try to keep the unique charm and character of our own communities, rather than have every community have the same rules so we all start looking and acting the same.”

Leary added that you have to think of the rights of neighbors as well when it comes to vegetable gardens.

“We all have the best intentions — and I understand the rationale behind it — but we should all be left to do what we feel is in the best interest of our local community. If there’s such an outcry at the local level for (gardens) then that will come before a city commission; that will come before a county commission. But the outcry is not there — it’s not like we’re restricting the majority of people from doing what they wish to do. It’s never even been on the radar here in Winter Park.” 

Do Good Farm founder Josh Taylor, who grows a sustainable farm and hydroponics garden in his Winter Garden home, believes governments should remove restrictions of any form for growing food on residential properties. He added he understands why some do it to protect property values but emphasized the value of growing one’s own vegetables.

“Our current food infrastructure and mix of farmed vegetables force us to stay in the downward spiral of using toxic chemicals in our farming,” he said. “There are dozens of incredible perennial edibles that we can grow year-round and supplement with some of the annual vegetables we're used to eating.”

If the bill becomes law, it will go into effect July 1. It does not forbid local governments from regulating fertilizer use, water use during drought conditions and ordinances intended to control invasive species.



Tim Freed contributed to reporting.


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