Planting gardens is a practice as old as human civilization. During World War I and World War II it was even considered one’s patriotic duty to plant a “victory garden” in order to reduce food costs.
In recent years, gardening has attained a newfound appreciation as people have come to recognize that traditional lawns are not only expensive to maintain, they are also not particularly friendly to the environment. Groups such as Grow Food Not Lawns have sprung up to encourage property owners to replace their ornamental grass with an edible landscape that will not only save money for the gardener, it may also bring fresh, healthy produce to areas that may currently lack access to such commodities. First Lady Michelle Obama has also gotten into the act by planting a garden at the White House and inviting kids to help her tend it.
Thus, Karl Tricamo never imagined that it would be especially controversial when he decided to plant a garden in his yard in order to secure cheap, nutritious, organic produce for his family. Just to be sure, however, he looked up all of the relevant ordinances for Ferguson, Missouri, and in doing so he confirmed that he would not be violating any laws. Sure enough, nothing in the ordinances prohibit citizens from growing healthy, organic produce on one’s property.
But in modern America, it is always risky to deviate from what others consider to be “normal.”
When Tricamo's neighbors complained about his garden, he became one of a growing number of gardeners targeted for harassment by their local government. For months city code enforcement officials threatened him with legal action until, finally, I took him on as a client and was able to help him win a decision that (at least for the time being) has forced the city to leave him alone.
On December 20, the New York Times ran a feature story exploring the ways in which local governments have been trying to prevent citizens from using their property to grow food for their families. Even though this sort of a propery use is as basic and harmless as one might imagine, these government bodies have the power to deny their citizens the right to garden.
Here at the Freedom Foundation, we know that if property rights are to mean anything, they must mean that citizens are free to engage in the most basic and harmless property uses without first getting their government's permission. We intend to fight to make sure that the timeless right to cultivate a garden is safeguarded here in Washington.