Family Forced to Dig Up Vegetable Garden or Face Fines

Photo credit: Heather Neal
Photo credit: Heather Neal

The one thing I really wanted when I lived in my post-college two-bedroom apartment was a place to grow vegetables. The thought of being able to walk outside and grab something for dinner was all too appealing for a newly minted dietitian. Much to my husband's chagrin, the first thing I made him do when we moved into our house (after painting) was build two raised-bed vegetable gardens. I immediately packed them with seeds: spinach, romaine, red peppers, green peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli. You name it, I planted it.

And then it all died. Not only do I have the complete opposite of a green thumb, but our backyard also doesn't get the amount of sun required to sustain the growth of such veggies. Our front yard, on the other hand, is drenched in beautiful, bright afternoon sun. It would have been the perfect place to put our vegetable garden, had the thought even crossed our mind. But perhaps it's a good thing we didn't. A Miami Shores couple was recently told by city ordinance officials that they had to dig up their 17-year-old vegetable garden, which supplied 80% of their family's food, or pay $50 a day in fines. Having been rejected in appeals twice, the couple ultimately was forced to destroy their garden in order to avoid paying $1,500 a month to keep it - that's way more than the cost of groceries.

Related: 10 life lessons for kids from the garden

As ridiculous and shocking as this case sounds, especially in Miami where fruit trees and plastic pink flamingos are in abundance, this isn't an isolated case. It took me about two and half seconds to find six other families that had also been fined or ordered to remove a food-supplying vegetable garden. A woman in Michigan faced up to 93 days in jail for not wanting to dig up her front yard raised vegetable beds (that incidentally she planted because the city dug up her front yard for maintenance without reseeding). A teacher who used his garden to teach kids about compost, biodiesel, and solar power was given a citation in Tennessee. A woman in Oklahoma had her garden bulldozed by the city for having plants that were "too tall," even though the ordinance stated you could have plants over a foot tall if they were meant for human consumption. A couple who wanted to grow tomatoes for their neighbors and local food bank in Massachusetts faced a $300 a day fine if they didn't remove the plants. Yet another couple in Florida was threatened with a daily fine of $500 if they didn't remove their vegetable garden because it had an "unfinished appearance." I found it hilarious one of these articles mentioned that particular city's fine for growing marijuana was a one-time fee of $500.

The argument is usually that these vegetable gardens are unsightly or not aesthetically pleasing, but I've seen some gorgeous vegetable gardens, and I've seen some horrendous flower gardens (although I'm aware MY garden would never be called beautiful). But what's more important: a nice-looking neighborhood or well-fed residents? There are a thousand reasons to grow your own food at home, among them the suffering economy, lack of access to organic produce, teaching your kids where food comes from, the desire to eat healthy, and more. Why does a city or homeowner's association have the right to prohibit these things?

I would love the opportunity to teach my son where his food comes from and how plants grow, and I sure as heck hope my city wouldn't try to stop me. He already loves to play in the dirt while I try to make things grow. Of course, for that lesson to happen, I may need to bring in some help for my black thumb, although I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere about not succeeding at everything you try.

What would you do if you were faced with this decision: Dig up the garden or pay the fine?

-By Heather Neal

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