Local-food advocate T.A. Wyner, shown in her community’s garden area, is upset that SB 1776, “Vegetable Gardens,” passed the Florida Senate but died suddenly in the House at the end of the Legislature’s extended 2018 session. / J.D. Vivian

Food sustainability — in a small but symbolically significant way — suffered a fatal hit, at least for 2018, in the Florida Legislature.

Senate Bill 1776 enjoyed such a great start. Titled “Vegetable Gardens,” the bill was introduced by Rob Bradley and two other Republican state senators — Aaron Bean and Jeff Brandes — on Jan. 5, 2018.

SB 1776 passed the Florida Senate’s Community Affairs Committee by a 5-to-1 margin on Feb. 6. It passed the Senate’s Rules Committee on Feb. 15 with a unanimous 11 “yeas” and 0 “nays.”

On March 1, it almost unanimously passed the entire Florida Senate with a vote of 36-1. One senator — Republican Kathleen Passidomo of District 28 — voted “nay”; and the seats in Districts 16 and 31 are vacant.

Then SB 1776, “Vegetable Gardens: Prohibiting local governments from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties except as otherwise provided by law …” officially died on March 10 in the Florida House of Representatives.

The Florida Legislature’s website says only that, on March 10, the bill, then in the House, was “Indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.” The Legislature ended its extended 2018 session the next day, March 11.

What would SB 1776 have done?

The Florida Senate’s own “Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement,” dated Feb. 15, sums up the benign nature of “Vegetable Gardens”: “SB 1776 prohibits a county, municipality or other political subdivision … from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties. … However, local governments may still adopt a local ordinance … of a general nature which does not specifically regulate vegetable gardens, including … ordinances relating to water use during drought conditions, fertilizer use or control of invasive species.”

Supports sustainability

Baylen Linnekin / Contributed

Baylen Linnekin wrote the book Biting the Hands That Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. The Seattle resident also serves on the board of directors of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (farmtoconsumer.org).

Of SB 1776, he says “The Florida House wrongly abdicated its responsibility to protect Florida gardeners, local food, and property rights. Their inaction on this bill is inexcusable.”

His 2016 book, he explains, discusses “many examples of awful municipal laws that prohibit home gardens. One is the Miami Shores lawsuit that spurred the Florida Senate to act in support of home gardeners.”

Urban vegetable gardeners violated 2013 ordinance

A Miami Shores couple, Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll, for years grew a variety of vegetables in their front yard. But the city, in 2013, changed the ordinance to say that edible plants can be grown only in back yards and cited the couple.

Facing $50-a-day fines, the two soon removed their vegetables, which included tomatoes, scallions, spinach, kale and cabbage. With the help of a law firm, they sued Miami Shores but lost the case late in 2017, when Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the city’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens.

Unhappy with demise of SB 1776

T.A. Wyner of Sunnier Palms Nudist Park in Fort Pierce calls the Florida House’s withdrawing the bill from consideration “very suspicious.” Her park features an area, away from the residents’ trailers, that has individual plots for vegetable gardens.

Hope Rural School in Indiantown features a garden area, with individual plots, where young students can work alongside their parents to learn how food grows. Shown working in the garden is teacher Susy Lopez. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

Wyner, a longtime local-food advocate, believes one major problem is that too many consumers lack a basic knowledge of their food supply: “Most don’t know from whence their food comes — beyond the drive-through window.”

Her solution is education. “School gardens can cure all these problems. Once you’ve grown, you will continue to grow, or teach others.”

Author Linnekin, who is also a food lawyer, echoes those sentiments. There is “a lack of individual knowledge about adopting more sustainable practices — for example, eating leftover food instead of discarding it — and, sometimes, an unwillingness to adopt such practices.”

What does he consider one of the greatest obstacles to sustainability? “Regulations at all levels of government that prohibit sustainable agricultural practices and/or favor unsustainable ones.”

On the other hand, Linnekin, who lives in Seattle, is quick to explain that he supports appropriate regulations, chief among them “food-safety rules that require good outcomes — for example, requiring that food not contain potentially deadly bacteria such as listeria.”