Virginia Small Farm and Food Freedom Resolution
Boneta Bill Part Deux
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Farming comprises less than three percent of an American labor force that feeds 307 million Americans and many other millions around the world yet government regulations are making it harder and harder for small farms to operate and bring wholesome foods to the market.
Why should farmers be subjected to “annual property monitoring visits and inspections” by environmental groups, environmental councils, and local supervisors beholden to international agencies, groups that have no idea how their food gets to the table nor do they care?
Virginians have fought back the NGO environmentalist assaults on their land, private property rights, and the right to farm by introducing HB 1430, The Right to Farm Act, better known as the Boneta Bill, which passed the House of Delegates 77-22 in February 2013 but was blocked by the Senate Agricultural Committee by a vote of 11-4. The sponsor of the bill, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, promised to reintroduce the bill in 2014.
Chairman Mike Thomas and his committee of 12 proposed a resolution on May 4, 2013, the Virginia Small Farm and Food Freedom Resolution in support of HB 1839, the Virginia Food Freedom Act.
The Resolution called on the Republican Party of Virginia “to support state legislation and local ordinances consistent with each farmer’s right to determine what best constitutes farming, farm life, the best uses of his/her own farm land, respect for their neighbors,” market pay for their labor, and to repeal state laws and ordinances inconsistent with the Resolution.
Martha Boneta found herself at the center of the battle for farm freedom and property rights when she held a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls at her Paris Barns. Fauquier County deemed this party illegal because it lacked a permit. “Why would I need a permit for pumpkin carving?” Boneta said.
Boneta was issued a special license in 2011 which allowed her to run a “retail farm shop” in which she sold handspun yarns, fresh vegetables, eggs, herbs, honey, and craft items such as birdhouses.
Fauquier County Board of Supervisors changed in 2011 the “farm sales classification” to require a special permit for activities that were previously included in the permit that Boneta had already been issued.
Faced with fines of $5,000 per violation under charges that she held a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without a permit and a “site plan,” advertised one wine tasting, sold postcards with pictures of her rescued farm animals, sold wool fiber products from her sheep and alpacas, and sold organic tea from herbs grown in her garden, even though she had a business license, Martha paid $500 to appeal these unjust administrative charges. “The county zoning administrator told her at the hearing that ‘Martha was out of line,’ for appealing these charges.”
When farm property owners can no longer hold a child’s birthday party without a permit, we are no longer free. In a letter dated January 8, 2012, Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter said, “What’s next? A citation from the food police for serving cake and ice cream to the children? A user fee for every helium balloon inflated? It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Not anymore.”
Farmers engage primarily in agriculture; additionally, they have the right to commerce, the right of enjoyment of their land, assembly on their own property, the right to exercise religious freedom on their lands, the right to grow, eat, sell their locally produced foods without burdensome local and state government regulations or dictates from environmental groups sponsored by international groups and entities with taxpayer dollars.
Government should not use laws, regulations, zoning ordinances, or cumbersome and expensive permits to violate or trespass on farmers’ rights and freedom to farm under the guise that they know what is best for farming in general or one farmer in particular.
Such government agencies that violate farmers’ rights and trespass on their property should be made accountable for their deeds. Americans should not be treated as guilty until proven innocent while giving environmental groups unlimited power without much redress for small farmers who do not have the means to fight back and must shut down their farming operations and farm stores as was the case of Martha Boneta in Virginia and many others across the country.
The new Governor of Virginia and the General Assembly have a duty to advance legislation in 2014 that respects the rights of citizens to pursue their self-interests as protected by the Constitution of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It appears that a compromise was reached and, on January 8, 2014, Delegate Bobby Orrock introduced HB 268. This bill is the labor of a state-appointed task force which assembled farmers from both sides of the aisle, reviewed public testimony, and reached a compromise.
HB 268 summarizes agricultural operations and local regulation of certain activities, “protecting customary agritourism activities from local bans in the absence of substantial impacts on the public welfare and requires certain localities to take certain factors into account when regulating agritourism activities.” There has to be a basis in health, safety, or public welfare for a local ordinance to restrict activities such as agritourism, sale of agricultural or silvicultural products, related items, preparation or sale of foods that already comply with state laws, and other customary activities. Local boards are “prohibited from subjecting these activities to a special-use permit requirement.”
Senator Richard Stuart filed a companion bill, SB51.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services task force members included:
- Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm
- Lois Smith of Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association Katie Frazer of Virginia Agribusiness
- Trey Davis of Virginia Farm Bureau
- Martha Boneta of Liberty Farm
Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Agribusiness Council support the new bill that will strengthen the rights of small family-owned farms, allowing them “to sell their products from nearby farms and host events without additional local permits.”
Martha Boneta, a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, explains, “This is a win-win for farmers, consumers, and the state. Farmers get the income they need, while consumers have a one-stop shop option and the state gains additional sales revenue. We are all so happy we’ve found a winning compromise.”