In Defense of Food Liberty: The Right to Farm in Our Communities


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Watering a vegetable garden. Photo by Flickr/Lisa Jacobs

The COVID pandemic traumatized the American economy as well as citizenry, exposing vulnerabilities (and dependencies) in the nation’s food distribution system. More Americans are now alert to the issue of food security as well as food quality — what if the nation had been as completely dependent on China for basic foods as it was for medical masks? In times of crisis, local farmers and locavore consumers are a vital part of the solution to this problem. But in today’s highly regulated world, the legal parameters of the “liberty” of farmers to sell food to their customers — or even of citizens to grow vegetables for their own consumption! — continue to be defined.

Americans’ profound dependence on a fragile, fossil fuel-gobbling, industrial food supply has increased with technological advances, globalization, and expanding government regulation of the hitherto sacrosanct “family farm.” As the factory food supply has grown, the health and safety risks of those “modern” and often inhumane facilities have been employed as justification to expand regulatory restrictions of smaller farms.

Less than six decades ago, barely one-third of states required meat that was slaughtered and sold on the farm to be inspected. Disease outbreaks from “factory meat” have since been used to greatly expand costly regulation of non-offending small farms. This compels an unhealthy trend: Younger would-be farmers and new ventures are discouraged from investing in the localvore economy.



Examples from the Frontlines of the Fight to Grow Food

The steady urbanization of America, encouraged by regulations and subsidies that favor industrially-produced food, continues to detach modern man from connection to the soil and food supply. This has resulted in bizarre regulatory restrictions that would be (properly!) seen as absurd a few decades past. Consider these reports back in 2014:
  • In 2011, a woman in Oak Park, Mich., faced the possibility of jail time for having kept an edible garden in her front yard. The city claimed the woman’s vegetable garden didn’t fit its definition of “suitable live plant material.”
  • In 2012, a Newton, Mass., resident was forced by the city to dig up the tomato garden he planted in his front yard or face a fine.
  • That same year, Tulsa, Ok., code enforcement officers trampled onto an unemployed woman’s front yard and ripped up the edible garden she had planted to help feed herself during lean times.
  • In 2013, Miami Shores, Fla., amended its ordinance to prohibit front yard vegetable gardens and informed Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll that they faced fines of $50 a day if they did not destroy their beautiful garden.

This battle between municipal zoning laws and gardening has heightened due to COVID, but conflicts in the countryside have raged for years to protect traditional farms from newcomers who prefer the visual to the olfactory dimension of rural agriculture: “right-to-farm” laws have been widely enacted in response. (Not content to inhibit the self-reliant from growing vegetables or rearing chickens in suburbia, the city mice have expanded to surrounding agriculture lands; food-hostile zoning edicts in tow).



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