There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.
Back last August, I wrote a pair of columns about Fauquier County’s treatment of a small organic produce farm in northern Fauquier owned by Martha Boneta. Zoning czar Kimberley Johnson sent Boneta an official cease-and-desist notice for selling farm products from her farm, and for hosting a birthday party for her best friend's 10-year-old daughter without a special administrative permit. Johnson threatened to fine Boneta $5,000 per violation if she did not stop the alleged unlawful activities within 30 days.
As I said at the time, the chain grocery stores normally don’t like dealing directly with small local farmers, so local market farmers absolutely depend on having their own distribution channels. It is crucial, which is why I spend so much time writing about those channels. On-site farm sales are such an important distribution channel that I wrote an entire column about it a while back.
Back in August, I also wrote about right-to-farm laws. Right-to-farm laws have been enacted in all 50 states, and they help protect agricultural operations from nuisance law suits. Virginia’s Right to Farm law supersedes local laws, and is supposed to prevent local governments from using zoning laws to put farms out of business.
But Fauquier used zoning laws to shut down Ms. Boneta’s farm store and put her out of business. So last summer Ms. Boneta filed a $2 million law suit against the county.
(By the way, 11 wineries also filed or joined lawsuits against Fauquier last summer over the use of zoning ordinances against them.)
Small, local market and family farmers and their supporters were horrified by what Fauquier did to Martha Boneta. The existing Virginia Right to Farm Act of 1981 has some serious weaknesses, and so work started on strengthening the act. The result was House Bill 1430, appropriately named the Boneta Bill.
The Boneta Bill is sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. This past Monday, by a 77-22 vote, the Boneta Bill passed in the Virginia House of Delegates. It is now headed to the Senate.
The Boneta Bill clarifies what an on-site farm store can sell. In addition to meat and produce raised by the farmer, the bill specifically allows value-added goods such as farm crafts, soap, candles and woven items. It also allows small amounts of “incidental” items such as beverages, art and books.
The biggest weakness of the current law is that it did not provide for remedies against violators. Fauquier proves the point that counties can violate the law with near impunity. The best part of the Boneta Bill is that it gives real enforcement teeth to the law.
Sadly, Virginia Farm Bureau is opposed to the Boneta Bill, and is actively working to defeat it. I am not really surprised. Their silence on Fauquier has been deafening, and they certainly have never raised a finger to help or support either Martha Boneta or the wineries.
Mark Fitzgibbons of Fauquier County Citizens for Family Farms told PR Newswire, “[T]he hypocrisy of Farm Bureau's opposing the constitutional, property and long-held commercial rights of small farmers ranks among the most politically — and now, economically — tone-deaf actions by any big business.”
Mr. Fitzgibbons points out that, “75 percent of Virginians voted for the eminent domain amendment in November despite opposition from the real estate industry, and the Boneta Bill's bipartisan popularity of H.B. 1430 may exceed even that. Farm Bureau has become another special interest beholden to big business and out of touch with small farmers, and constitutional and property rights of the little guy.”
As I said, there is a revolution going on.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.