Food Policy

Local Officials Are Coming for Your Garden

Local regulatory busybodies are zoning away your right to grow food in your garden.


With spring in bloom, gardening season is underway across the country. That means lettuces and herbs, tomatoes and carrots. But it also means local regulatory busybodies are hard at work in many parts of the country making sure some gardeners' toughest fights this season won't be against drought, weeds, and non-human pests.

In Columbiana, Ohio, for example, the city council has proposed to amend existing law to allow residential gardens in the city. Yay? Nope. Residents are crying foul.

They call the measure "just another effort on the city's part to restrict their rights."

Residents' ire seems justified. The initial amendment proposed by the city council would have legalized gardens, but limited them to backyards only. Columbiana also recently began enforcing a 1974 law prohibiting the keeping of chickens and other backyard livestock.

And then there's this jewel:

"The city had no laws pertaining to residential gardens, which means they were technically not allowed," reports the local Salem News. "According to the city's laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited."

If that sounds like a local paper misreading the law, think again.

"Currently, our ordinances state that if you do not see it specifically written, then you are not technically allowed to have it," says city councilor Crystal Siembida Boggs, who criticizes the rules as "vague."

That's really about the best thing someone can say about such a law.

Gardeners are under attack from laws like these across the country. I recount many instances of gardeners facing physical removal of their gardens, fines, and even threats of jail time in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable.

In 2013, in another case I detail in my book, the Institute for Justice sued the city of Miami Shores, Florida, on behalf of a local couple who the city had ordered—under threat of stiff fines—to rip up the front-yard garden they'd tended for years. A federal state judge upheld the law.

"The court finds that the prohibition of vegetable gardens except in the back yards is rationally related to Miami Shores' legitimate interest in promoting and maintaining aesthetics," the judge wrote in his ruling.

The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

In another instance I detail in my book, officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, entered resident Denise Morrison's front yard without her permission and ripped out her edible garden.

"Morrison, who was unemployed at the time, was using the foods she grew to sustain herself during a difficult period," I write. "Code officers, on the other hand, were enforcing a city ordinance that said plants cannot be higher than twelve inches 'unless they're used for human consumption.'"

Morrison's garden, I note, in fact contained many plants fit for human consumption, including strawberries and spearmint. Tulsa officials didn't care. Morrison sued the city in federal court. The court threw out her lawsuit, arguing she'd been given proper notice by the city.

Oklahoma lawmakers recently adopted a law to promote urban agriculture as part of an effort to combat poor access to fresh produce in many cities and towns. The law creates a fund to dole out grants to benefit people in low-income areas—including Tulsa.

Thomas Boxley from University of Oklahoma, who runs a school garden project in an impoverished part of Tulsa and who no doubt is doing good work, says his project helps "to show the youth that you can begin to grow some of your food needs right in your backyard."

You can, unless Tulsa says you can't.

It's hard to see this grant program as anything but a slap in the face to people like Denise Morrison who've been told they can't grow their own food because things like zoning and aesthetics are simply too important. Gardeners and food freedom be damned.

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  1. “According to the city’s laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited.”

    What’s round at both ends and also asshole-like in between? National elections they used to say that the people of Ohio best represent the overall population of the country. This is where we’re heading.

    1. As I read that – this city has outlawed common law (presumption is anything is allowed if not prohibited) and replaced it with civil law (presumption is prohibited unless allowed). Pretty sure every judge out there would rule this interpretation as illegal – even re land since this city – nor even Ohio – are the allodial owner of land. Only the US is.

      1. edit – city is NOT the allodial owner.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

          This is what I do.,.,.,.,.,..

      2. I certainly hope you are right that this “prohibited unless permitted” idea will be thrown out the first time it is directly challenged. But on what do you base the statement that the U.S. is the “allodial owner” of the land? I would have thought (if such a concept exists in our law) that it would be the State of Ohio, under our system of “dual sovereignty”. What about land in the original 13 states?

        1. For the original 13, the Treaty of Paris relinquished allodium from King of England to the United States – the US gained independence – not each state individually. Every state has ratified the Constitution with supremacy clause.

          Dual sovereignty is more an agreement on constraint of the Constitution (eg the US still can’t direct tax individual land owners – only income) and a way to bypass double-jeopardy for the individual (ie each state can prosecute on its own) than it is actual dual sovereignty over the same land. There is no real dual sovereignty in the world outside maybe Antarctica.

  2. “The court finds that the prohibition of vegetable gardens except in the back yards is rationally related to Miami Shores’ legitimate interest in promoting and maintaining aesthetics,”

    They can talk about “planning” all they want, but “aesthetics” is what most zoning really comes down to. And by “aesthetics” they mean “if you’re too poor to afford nice stuff, go away, we don’t want you here”.

    1. Its not just affording nice things.

      Local zoning, HOA’s and local ordinances are are way to boss people around too. The HOA’s and flags are constantly in the news. You have to a moron to buy a house with a HOA but private property rights should not be sidestepped by arbitrary HOA rules based on whose in power today.

      1. Yes, HOAs are equally oppressive about gardens. Anything that makes your house look different is verboten. And yes, most of these restrictions are a way for the upper middle class to distinguish them from the lower class peons. It all comes down to social signaling. That is why chickens are not allowed. Chickens mean poor people.

        The other problem with HOAs is that they function like governments. Which means the worst rise to the top. What you get is some busybody with no life and no self-validation that spends all his or her time enforcing all the minutae of the HOA bylaws. Fuck HOAs.

        1. Chickens mean poor people in the burbs. Chickens stop meaning poor people once you are rich enough to upgrade to an estate.

          1. But you have to have fancy Martha Stewart chickens.

            1. Chickens that look like Martha Stewart?

        2. The difference with HOAs is that they are voluntary. You have to agree to and sign the neighborhood covenants when you buy a house in said neighborhood.

          If you don’t like them, don’t buy that house.

          With government, you have no such option.

          1. That is true to a certain extent. But you could also say that being in the U.S. is voluntary. If you don’t like it, leave. Go to another country or buy a sailboat and roam the oceans.

            What if there are no options for a house within an hour of your work location that is not under an HOA covenant?

            1. Tough shit. Welcome to libertopia.

            2. Take over the HOA. Run for the board, serve two terms and become president. Change the meeting protocol from what they were doing to actually following Robert’s rules like the bylaws say. Appoint a committee (stacked by rebels of alike mind to yours) to “review” the association “guidelines”, and force through all the changes and eliminations you desire.
              Worked for me. Remember, most of the residents just ignore the HOA and blindly follow the rules. If you knock on their door and politely explain you would like their proxy to ease some of the rules, 90% will thankfully sign away.

              1. Wouldn’t it just be more expdient to call a special meeting of the HOA, enticing them with punch and pie, then release homocidal sentient mobile woodchippers to exterminate them? Then just declare yourself HOA president for life, don a military style uniform, and rule with an iron fist?

                Not sure which would be more work, but I know which would be more fun.

            3. “What if there are no options for a house within an hour of your work location that is not under an HOA covenant?”

              I would like to know where you live that has no homes within an hour covered by an HOA covenant and no vacant land whatsoever where a house could be built. I detest HOA’s but for people who want to live in a controlled community they are appropriate and I would say virtually 100% if not 100% of the US population has alternative options.

            4. What if there are no options for a house within an hour of your work location that is not under an HOA covenant?

              How is this different than the “What if there are no bakeries within an hour of your wedding venue that will bake gay wedding cakes?” argument?

              1. I can only eat gay wedding cakes. All the other cakes are straight, and therefore too fattening.

            5. But you could also say that being in the U.S. is voluntary. If you don’t like it, leave. Go to another country or buy a sailboat and roam the oceans.

              And I do say that, regularly.

      2. Screw HOAs. I buy where they don’t exist. Period.

    2. Insofar as these sorts of petty tyrants are interested in appearances the only lasting aesthetic is conformity. Wealth is actually secondary.

      If she were rich enough to build a ten foot high rock wall waterfall in her front yard they’d still be on her ass about it.

  3. After Civil War II, we need to make sure that clear establishment of individual private property rights are added to the US Constitution. Businesses would not be considered people, so they could be minimally regulated.

    Plus, violating the Constitution is punishable by death with zero prosecutor discretion to not prosecute.

    Plus, balanced budget amendment with a required vote every year and every law has to have a sunset clause, no more than 5 years out.

    1. Really? If businesses are ‘people’ now – they’re not but for some reason people love to confuse them some ‘legal person’ with ‘natural person’ – and heavily regulated how do you think they’ll end up ‘minimally’ regulated in your hypothetical post-bellum country?

    2. Businesses aren’t “people”; corporations are “people”.

      1. Corporations are “persons”.

        1. Soilent green is people, though.

    3. If you are going to declare a business or corporation a “person” then they have to have a lifetime as well like say 70-80 years. They have to follow all the laws of “real persons” and they don’t get special tax treatment. Are you still sure you want your corporation to be a “person” instead of a well defined legal entity?

      1. So a “real person” who lives past the expiration date is no longer a “real person”? No special tax treatment means no more mortgage or charitable deductions for “real persons”?

        1. A person past their expiration date becomes soylent green. Which has no expiration date.

          So how do we turn corporations into soylent green?

      2. I’ll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.

        1. It can happen. A judge could order one dissolved.

    4. If you don’t have enough political power to accomplish this through the current process, what makes you think you’re going to be on the winning side of Civil War II?

      1. People fighting irrational ideas/fraud do not need to use violence. The have the truth, logical arguments. But that is not enough. Thanks to govt. schools, a lifetime of indoctrination must be overcome. To do that takes communication skill. Larken Rose teachs how to sell freedom in live workshops: “Candles in the Dark”.

    5. I would also make the right to free association sacrosanct. With the exception of government and emergency services.

  4. I can’t help but think that if more stories like these were debated on the cable news Sunday “panels” the world would be a better place. This is why I come to Reason.

    1. The mainstream media does not want to discuss these things, which is why I come to Reason.

      The left (including most media) wants the big Nanny-State so that means that alternatives relating to freedom are to be ignored, dismissed and rebranded as bad.

    2. Not gonna happen. Only certain types of people are allowed to rise through the journalism ranks to end up on the panels. There is a lot of gatekeeping going on that keeps anyone with any sort of an independent mind out.

    3. The “more stories” like this are typically consigned to weekends. The rest of the week is the usual DC-based hysteria, which may be why the posting numbers have dropped off so much.

    4. The chief reason they wouldn’t be is because they’re seen as particular to a small place. Unless you’re interested in a broader principle (as here), it’s not interesting for many people to discuss. Heck, public affairs programming in general isn’t of great interest to many people.

      Where they do get brought up is as “human interest” stories, which are all about particular people & locations. Like look at this 2-headed cat, it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, Grandma is 110 YO, here’s a town w a quirky law preventing people from growing vegetables, Junior gets a lung transplant….

  5. Of course it couldn’t literally be true that everything not specifically permitted in that jurisdiction is prohibited, because people are capable of so many actions that no ordinance could possibly be detailed enough to make life practicable. Maybe there’s some ordinance there particular to land use saying something to the effect that nothing be put in or affixed to the ground unless…& then some broad categories are listed.

    1. Still got the same problem – there are just too many different things people would want to do with the land to make a ‘only what is allowed’ regime workable.

      But they don’t care – its just used as an excuse for control anyway.

      1. No, actually things people want to do with land that would involve putting things into or affixing them to it can be broken down into a few categories that could be written in a fairly small statute book: bldgs., plantings, permanent coverings, excavations, tunnels,…what else? So there could be a broad prohibition that the official is referencing (putting things into or attaching them to the ground) in which there are specific permissions. But it can’t be just life in gen’l or even things done on top of the ground, because then it’s like, what ordinance said you could breathe here?

        1. tunnels aren’t a subset of excavations?

        2. Exactly! The logical extension (ultimate meaning) of the ordinance is: All exist by the grace of the govt. And some are good with that. So good, they will violently force it on those who are not.

          It’s simple. Either the individual is sovereign or an official rules over the citizen. Which is the political reality in the US Empire, the USSA?

          That is the question everybody needs to face & answer. Then we can begin to effect change.

  6. I have no problem with back yard gardens, but backyard farm animals should be regulated. No one wants to live next to a neighbor who keeps a pig pen in their back yard. Chickens are relatively clean and quiet and non-smelly, minus roosters and factory farm conditions.

    1. Just found out today that the guy diagonally behind me has a full sized pig. Has had it for a year. Couldn’t even tell.

      1. Lots of agriculture land where I live but they do have regulations for scents, sounds and water runoff that they are now applying to pot growers as well

    2. How else will Warty and Crusty get laid in between captured whores chained up in their cellars?

  7. These poor people are starving because of Trump. And the story did not point out that it is his fault once.

  8. We’re from the government and we’re here to help. The scariest words in any language.

    1. I’m not sure. “Just relax when you feel pressure back there”, and “your rectal blood will make an excellent lubricant” are way up there too.

  9. Some guys fantasize about threesomes or banging the 18 year old baby sitter but I’m the twisted son of a bitch for fantasizing that a dozen people show up at a city council meeting and chuck their home grown tomatoes at the mayor and the council members?

    1. Really? Those people rep your neighbors. They are the norm, we are the minority. If you want to take action learn how to explain to your neighbor how important freedom is. Larken Rose is on a teaching tour called: “Candles in the Dark”.

  10. The lesson here is do not ever own property within the city limits, never buy a property with an active HOA (most HOAs sunset at some point unless a few busybodies revive them). If at all possible buy a property zoned AG or as far outside of any active jurisdiction as you can get. Otherwise, sooner or later, you’ll be fucked. The sad reality is that, as much as we all celebrate “private property” and “home ownership”, you will never own real property in the U.S. You can only mitigate your potential losses. The state owns your property and you as well.

    1. In California they will soon be going for your well water as well. some law Jerry Brown signed. the more taking of what has always been the property owner. of course In California no one has rights to anything below 100′ anyway already.

    2. Living in an HOA is a lot wiser if you have a law degree I would imagine. As most states make it hard to prove abuse of process claims.

  11. Do you think we’ll ever be able to identify the busybody gene and cure this terrible disease?

  12. Wow. “everything not expressly permitted is forbidden”? That sounds like a communist or totalitarian nation,not the free country of America.
    Whoever interpreted Ohio law to be that way needs to be removed from office and never allowed to hold any public office ever again.

    1. If one were a pub ed victim, one would think: Must be a mistake or a joke, couldn’t happen here. Why? This goes against everything I have been taught in school and seen on MSM all my life. All the world knows America is the freest, most prosperous. Hand me a cold one and put on the game.

      And now you see the root of the problem: Govt. schools have done their job. (If you see a freethinker, report it to DHS.)

  13. “According to the city’s laws, if something is not permitted it is prohibited.”

    Jesus: come on, people: leave something to satire.

    1. I wonder if the City code specifically and expressly permits people to have sex? Think of all the lawbreakers if it does not!

  14. Most of this bullshit could be solved by passing legislation defining the execution of regulatory stooges as misdemeanor littering, punishable by a maximum of a $25 fine.

    Seriously, we need a hunting season on these swine,

    1. Who is more despicable, the regulators, or their supporters? No support for bosses, no bosses. Support for authority is de facto renunciation of sovereignty, self responsibility, self respect, and freedom. Forcing a minority to obey the will of the majority and authority, is tyranny. Kiss your rights good-by.

      But don’t blame the rulers. They are just doing what the rabble created them to do, help them to do. If you want your freedom, you have to convince about 10% of the statists to become voluntarists. That should be enough to start movement for liberation.

  15. What is needed is city garden permits. Probably $50 a year. Then when the produce is ripe and ready to be picked we need to pay again to have it inspected by the city produce inspector so we know or own produce is safe to eat. It could possibly have to many pesticides on it unsafe human consumption. Of course this must be paid for too. We better have the produce inspected before serving to, to make sure we prepared in in a clean and safe environment. Just another small fee.

    Remember in all things, filling the government coffers, from local to county to state to federal is the most important thing. We must protect citizen from themselves.

  16. “everything not expressly permitted is forbidden”

    I live in “Falwell County”, not far from Liberty U City. Sadly, this is the policy of our county planning department. More sadly, this area votes extremely conservatively… where people think conservative only means socially conservative. Rule of thumb: Never ask if a permit is required, because 1) it is, and 2) the application fee is $150. You’ll probably get approved so long as you pay the fee, and your proprty tax assessment goes up also.

    Most folks around here are more concerned whether you go to church, then the above

  17. I get “no roosters on less than 1 acre” (for reasons of noise), and requiring that the space between a sidewalk and street be kept to less than 6 inches (for reasons of visibility and passage), but how is the rest of this anything other than an attempt to make the world into one great, dead, suburban hell?

  18. some cities may start allowing gardening but don’t worry soon they will realize they can require licensing and fees to allow it they just haven’t realized that yet.

    1. If you let someone make you get a permit to grow food, what’s next? Permission to collect rainwater? Oh, wait, America, “the land of the free and home of the brave”, has already accepted this control. What about movement? Surely, we can move about, without permission? Ah, no, not on the roads. We need a license. And we can’t walk on any pubic road either. What about just standing? No, that could be called loitering. What about sleeping in the woods? That could be vagrancy. Time to escape this prison? Not so fast. Do you have your exit permission (passport)? If this is freedom, what does slavery look like?

  19. “just another effort on the city’s part [insert gov’t entity/body] to restrict their rights.”

  20. I have read several accounts recently where cities have sent in SWAT teams to pull up and destroy vegetable gardens claiming that they had been reported to be growing marijuana.

  21. I have read of several cases recently where cities have sent in SWAT teams to pull up and destroy vegetable gardens because it had been reported (right!) that they were growing marijuana.

  22. Washington DC regulates *beehives* and *keepers* with registration, training requirements and annual fee (currently $10/yr.). They patterned the new law after Montgomery County MD’s regulation.

  23. “if it is not codified as “law” then it is not legal”???? WTF!!
    What kind of lame piece of shit could possibly think that the government creates Law? They make rules! Nothing more.
    This should be such a simple court case. However, at the root of it is “What is LAW”?

    Is the political machinations designed to channel money and power in certain directions to be considered LAW? Or just rules?

  24. Every unConstitutional ordinance can be challenged, as each complainant is denied an action, or the city commissioners who passed them can be sued for conspiracy to violate their oath and rights. Columbiana’s ordinance requiring permission to do anything not permitted is clearly unConstitutional. So why wait and spend a fortune challenging each denial? Letting such an ordinance stay on the books is unAmerican.

  25. You want my garden? Come take it.

  26. move to the county, then run for the Board of Stupidvisors.

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  29. It’s gonna take more than some fag from the city to stop me from gardening!

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