In A Stateless World, Can You Grow Veggies In Your Front Yard?

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

The Miami Herald reports that a local couple is going all the way to the state supreme court to fight a local ordinance banning front-yard vegetable gardens: 

Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll may grow fruit trees and flowers in the front yard of their Miami Shores house...


Vegetables, however, are not allowed.


Ricketts and Carroll thought they were gardeners when they grew tomatoes, beets, scallions, spinach, kale and multiple varieties of Asian cabbage. But according to a village ordinance that restricts edible plants to backyards only, they were actually criminals.


“That’s what government does – interferes in people’s lives,” Ricketts said. “We had that garden for 17 years. We ate fresh meals every day from that garden. Since the village stepped its big foot in it, they have ruined our garden and my health.”

These sorts of stories pop up several times a year. They are often discussed at free-market oriented and libertarian sites to illustrate just the myriad of ways that the state interferes in our daily lives. Many times, they intervene to prohibit totally innocuous activities like growing a front-yard garden. 

What articles like these often fail to point out of course, is that these laws didn't appear out of nowhere. They are often passed because some voters demanded the city council or the county commission pass laws prohibiting front-yard gardens, or backyard chicken coops, or other non-violent activities deemed by some to be a nuisance to the neighborhood. These laws then persist over time because the majority of voters either agree with the laws, or don't feel strongly enough about the matter to demand a change. 

In Miami Shores, the law against front-yard gardens was likely passed because at least a few people felt that front yard gardens were not so innocuous after all. 

This situation illustrates, yet again, a problem with majoritarian government. If a majority of the citizens of Miami Shores — or whatever jurisdiction — hate front-yard gardens, then they likely to vote for candidates who will vote to ban them. The minority, of course, is simply out of luck.

The implied solution in many of these free-market publications is that government should just get out of the business of regulating front yards. OK. But then people will begin to ask the inevitable questions: 

  • Should people be able to just dump garbage in their front yards then?
  • Can they park a food truck there 24-hours a day and sell hamburgers out of them? 
  • Can they put in their front yards a 20-foot sculpture of a jackalope

If the response is "of course not" then the next question is "why not?" or "so what is prohibited in front yards?" If a pile of old appliances is not acceptable in the front yard, why is a vegetable garden acceptable? What if many people think gardens are nearly as unsightly as an old car on blocks? 

You can probably figure out where this leads. We're right back at regulating what people can do in their front yards. 

Indeed, when Ricketts laments that "government interferes in people's lives" in response to the ban on her garden, one wonders if she'd be equally libertarian if her neighbors had piles of junk cars in their front yards. 

So, is there no solution here? Must we choose between bans on gardens on the one side, and piles of garbage on the other? 

The solution, of course, lies in decentralization and privatization. 

The Role of the Homeowners Association

Were local governments to totally abandon all regulations on neighborhood aesthetics, it's easy to imagine what would happen next.1 Assuming, of course, that they were unable to convince local governments to ban allegedly "unsightly" features like front-yard gardens, those who hate the veggie gardens would then seek a solution in private homeowners associations.2

Those who want to be surrounded by neighbors who only plant nicely manicured lawns can have it — provided they find others willing to enter into a private agreement banning front-yard gardens. 

And this is exactly what many people do when they choose to move to covenant-controlled communities where they believe their "property values" will be protected by private agreements banning unsightly features to front yards or houses. 

People like to complain about their homeowners associations, of course, but there's a reason they aren't going away. The homeowner agreements don't actually deter a large number of people from purchasing homes in those communities. Thus, the developers who sell houses there have little reason to believe consumers want a more laissez-faire neighborhood. Many residents actually like knowing that the local association won't tolerate a weed-filled front yard or an old car up on blocks in the driveway. 

This is why the homeowners association became widespread in the first place: 

These developments were often more self-contained than the large-scale communities in that they maintained stricter standards regarding the appearance of the homes (both the structures and the landscaping). The general idea was that people who were looking for certain amenities (whether restrictions on pets or rules governing hedge planting) would be drawn to these communities; those who sought other amenities would look at other developments. 

Some homeowners association are more strict than others, but most are far more strict than the local municipal governments. Indeed, those who want front-yard gardens will probably find it easier to find a municipal government that tolerates them, than a private homeowners association. Finding a homeowners association that allows chicken coops is probably even harder. Many municipal governments, on the other hand, allow them

Decentralization Is the Key

A second option — decentralization — can achieve a similar result. 

Imagine, for instance, that Ricketts convinced a group of people on her side of town to form a secessionist neighborhood that was able to separate from the city of Miami Shores. It became West Miami Shores. 

The Ricketts and their neighbors would then get to have their front-yard gardens. This would also be good for the residents in Old Miami Shores. When potential new residents come looking around to buy a house in Old Miami Shores, the anti-garden people can simply say "you want a front-yard garden? Don't move here, move over there."

Problem solved. 

Yes, it's true that some residents in both areas will then have to move if they want to live in a neighborhood that favors their particular views on front-yard gardens. But at least now both groups have the option of getting what they want. 

In the absence of either of these options, we're only left with a situation in which the majority can run untrammeled over a minority, and the minority has no escape.


tmosley Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:35 Permalink

Just put a sunset clause into all such laws. If it is important enough to be illegal, the people will keep it illegal. If not, then they won't.

hedgeless_horseman Bigly Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:50 Permalink


Yes, it's true that some residents in both areas will then have to move if they want to live in a neighborhood that favors their particular views on front-yard gardens.

Yes, vote with your feet.Tonight, for dinner, we are having sweet potatoes and collard greens from our garden with some of our own grass-fed beef.

In reply to by Bigly

. . . _ _ _ . . . Bigly Thu, 12/14/2017 - 20:05 Permalink

So let's build our towns on the best agricultural real-estate (near rivers [in flood plains]) and instead of planting gardens on our lots, we'll just decorate our lawns (for the same investment in time and money.) Why tend a garden when you can mow a lawn, ...right? We pay more to insure our homes and we guarantee the onset of more 'efficient' mono-culture farming and GMOs because we're running out of arable land.We are the grass farmers, and we throw our crops in the garbage..We deserve whatever we get.

In reply to by Bigly

crazzziecanuck tmosley Thu, 12/14/2017 - 22:15 Permalink

I know that an old hometown of mine had an ordinance that you couldn't grow vegetables in your ENTIRE yard.  Why?  Because 30 or 40 years ago people would change their oil and dump it in the backyard.  Most places are quite contaminated with all sort of things and you cannot tell from looking at the surface.  And just because no one may have dumped on your yard, people dumping on their would contaminate yours over any moderate length of time.One solution would be *gasp* REGULATION.  Allow people to grow if they can prove their soil has been tested and is safe.  I personally would prefer seeing vegetables and other plants in people's front yards than crappy lawns.  Yuppie trophy prize the lawn.

In reply to by tmosley

risk.averse tmosley Thu, 12/14/2017 - 23:48 Permalink

Yes! A great idea. Switzerland banned ALL car racing in 1955 after a horror accident in the Le Mans 24 Hour race -- and no, Le Mans is not in Switzerland itself but in France. It has stood all these years even though safety measures have improved dramatically since 1955. It should have expired after a decade or so. Ban has only now just been lifted -- after almost 3/4 century! -- and after much heated debate.… well as a built-in sunset clause, I'd love to see a built-in "not to be re-introduced for 20 years" clause. To stop proposed new laws from being introduced and re-introduced until the politicians give in to the noisey fringe and acquiesce to their demands for new -- usually leftwing-- laws. Sick and tired of it!

In reply to by tmosley

coast1 Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:39 Permalink

I am all for growing gardens and comparing them to junk cars is ridiculous...But these people went into a homeowners association and signed their own freedom away...then they wonder wtf happened? 

dr kill coast1 Thu, 12/14/2017 - 21:54 Permalink

We lived in Miami Shores for 25 years, it is a lovely area, a real Ft Apache in NE Dade County, surrounded by Dindus on all sides. The village rules are very old. Incorporated in 1932.  There is no homeowners association. No boats in the front yard. No business vehicles in the front drive. There are rules about the color you may paint your home. It's all about property value. We made a shitload when we sold, and we had a boat, a business truck, and a garden in the back yard. These people should STFU and STFD.

In reply to by coast1

JamesBond Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:40 Permalink

Or people can buy farm land and cultivate it.

Or people can buy a commercial lot and dump cars on it.

Or people who want to live in a residential neighborhood with manicured lawns can move to one that has a strong arm HOA.

World's full of options.

....but you can't fight the FED....

serotonindumptruck Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:45 Permalink

Property owners should never buy into any residential community which has an HOA.It always results in a dictatorship and mini-fiefdom where the most wealthy landowners preside over the HOA council, and individual property Rights become secondary to the whims of those who would choose to rule over you.Let your grass grow longer than 1/2 inch above HOA guidelines?Well then, there's a fine attached to that.Try to plant shade trees in your front yard without asking permission from your local HOA council first?Well, be prepared to retain your own private legal counsel because the war has only just begun.Try to plant a susutainable vegetable garden in your front yard?Well then, you've clearly decided to go to DEFCON 1 with your HOA and you had better be prepared for a fight to the death.

Bigern serotonindumptruck Thu, 12/14/2017 - 20:45 Permalink

The real problem is, since the installment of property taxes, there is no ownership of property. They get your vehicles and homes for life. There is no escape, even in places that don't have it now. It can always be "installed".The real problem is there is no limit to the power seized by governing authorities, because they no longer fear the higher authority.That will change.

In reply to by serotonindumptruck

JuliaS Bigern Thu, 12/14/2017 - 23:04 Permalink

Indeed. So many people have lived all their lives now knowing what "ownership" means. It means not having to ask for permission. If you ask, then you automatically grand someone else higher authority and surrender ownership.Kids nowdays grow up idiots. The don't understand the important concept that our Founding Fathers understood - that right derive from property. If you don't have property rights, you don't have any rights. The miracle of "share" economy! Yap yap.

In reply to by Bigern

LetThemEatRand JohnG Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:52 Permalink

You okay with the guy next to you deciding to smelt iron on the property immediately adjacent to yours?  The author of the article asks this basic question, but doesn't answer it.  It's an important question.  People affect each other.  Your neighbor's freedom to smelt iron means your property value goes to zero.  But he's going to do what the fuck he wants with his private property, right?

In reply to by JohnG

BarkingCat LetThemEatRand Thu, 12/14/2017 - 21:56 Permalink

Come on Rand know better than that. The basic principle of Libertarians is that you can do whatever the hell you want as long as you're not affecting others. If you are smelting iron next to me then you are releasing potentially toxic pollution into the air and that affects me. If you got a junk car in your front yard, I might not appreciate the visual but frankly it's none of my fucking business.If you got a chicken coop and you rooster wakes me up at 3 in the morning they also affects me but the plus side is that when I snap and resolve the problem I will have chicken soup.

In reply to by LetThemEatRand

LetThemEatRand Thu, 12/14/2017 - 19:44 Permalink

Typical Mises Institute reasoning -- private law (homeowner's association) okay, but public law (local ordinance) not okay.  The difference?  According to Mises, that people subject to the homeowner's association do so "voluntarily."  But what if you live in a homeowner's association area and after 10 years they say you have to paint your house green?  You leave or you put up with it.  Same thing with the local ordinance.   If you want to be left alone, don't have neighbors.  If you have neighbors, they may get together and decide they don't like what you're doing.  Just the way of the world, Mises.  Get over it.

LetThemEatRand nmewn Thu, 12/14/2017 - 20:06 Permalink

My point is that it doesn't matter what kind of system you have.  These sorts of problems arise.  Even in the Wild West there were disputes over land use, often resulting in bloodshed.  Society and government exist because people want to avoid a shoot out when such disputes arise.   It's a balancing act and all too often people tend to support ridiculous rules.  Again, human nature.It's easy to point out flaws in any system, but that does not mean a competing system would be better.  This article does a pretty good job of proving that point through mental gymnastics about private homeowners associations vs. municipal government.

In reply to by nmewn