Time and time again, government officials have used regulations meant to manage commercial operations as an excuse to shut down hobby farmers and small-scale food artisans. Now a new measure, introduced by Virginia’s Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) seeks to remove the government’s ability to disrespect private property rights of those who want to produce and sell food-based products.
As it stands now, local, state, and federal governments all regulate where, how and by whom agricultural operations can be run. In some cases, staying within the limits of these laws can require full-blown public hearing approvals, expensive permit applications, and complicated site plans or renovations. These regulations make sense for large-scale commercial outfits, but can be insurmountable for the average mom and pop artisan.
Lingamfelter introduced the new legislation designed to amend the Virginia Right to Farm Act (VRFA) at a press conference on Tuesday. It has been dubbed the “Boneta Bill“ after Martha Boneta, a local farmer in Fauquier County who has been in a legal dispute with the county as a result of several zoning ordinances and permits imposed by local government officials.
County officials previously had shut down Boneta’s farm store, charging her with local code violations such as hosting events without the required permits, reports the Richmond Times-Dispath. As evidence, the county presented at least one Facebook picture of a private birthday party that Boneta had hosted for a friend’s 10-year-old daughter and seven of the girl’s friends, Boneta told the paper. The county also alleged that Boneta had sold produce and other self-made items such as wax candles, sheep yarn and goat milk soap without a permit, even though Boneta had a business license for the small store on her 7-acre family farm in Paris. She said Tuesday that she faces up to $10,000 in fines for the alleged violations.
The Boneta Bill, aka House Bill 1430, would strengthen the VRFA and ensure that traditions of small family farming in the Commonwealth of Virginia is respected at all levels of government. The bill would amend the defining section of the VRFA to include the byproducts of farm produce and the sale of items incidental to farming as protected rights. The bill would ensure that government officials cannot restrict or prevent the citizens from selling items produced on their own farm. The bill also expressly states that any county ordinance found to violate a citizen’s constitutional rights on agricultural property would instantly become null and void.
Many are advocating grow- and make-your-own lifestyles as a way to save money and protect the environment in economically-challenging times, but random crack-downs are a major deterrent. Those who might consider starting an agriculturally-based business out of their home might decide it’s not worth the risk, stifling an endeavor that might otherwise have boosted the local economy.
“Property rights are one of the most fundamental rights in a free society. In the United States, we the people are the sovereign. We the people have the right to farm just as our Founders envisioned with what they called the pursuit of happiness,” said Del. Lingamfelter at a recent press conference. “Martha Boneta’s rights have been wrongly challenged. I am bringing legislation in the 2013 Session of the General Assembly to improve the Right to Farm Act here in Virginia so small farmers like Martha will enjoy fully their property rights. It’s not about demonizing anyone in this controversy. It’s about standing by property rights and our Founder’s vision.”
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