Fresh & Local
Government Tyranny in Fauquier
Column #46, Published Aug 3rd, 2012
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.
This week, I ran across an article in the Washington Examiner about Fauquier County’s treatment of a farm known as The Piedmont Agricultural Academy LLC in northern Fauquier. According to the Examiner, “On April 30, Zoning Administrator Kimberley Johnson sent Martha Boneta an official cease-and-desist notice for selling farm products and hosting a birthday party for her best friend's 10-year-old daughter on her 70-acre Paris, Va., farm 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. In doing so, Boneta's fellow farmers say, Johnson stepped far beyond her authority. They're supporting her appeal before the BZA because they rightly fear that left unchecked, this infringement on one farmer's freedom to make a living will spread to other agricultural enterprises like a dangerous pest.”
Chain grocery stores normally don’t like dealing directly with small local farmers. Local market farmers 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 back this spring.
Up to now, I have not mentioned right-to-farm laws, so this would be a good time to do it. 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 prevents local governments from using zoning laws to put farms out of business. That appears to be exactly what is going on here.
The Right Side News web site reports that, “In a letter written to Ms. Johnson, uncovered by a FOIA request, one of the Paris farmer’s neighbors stated ‘Most of us in Paris do not want any (emboldened in original letter) business run out of her (the Paris farmer’s) farm.’ ” The intent here is clearly to use zoning laws to stop all PAA business activity, which is protected by Virginia’s Right to Farm law.
What Fauquier is doing to PAA is not an isolated event, but appears to be part of a pattern of assaults on property rights and agriculture. Three weeks ago, the Fauquier Board of Supervisors passed a new county ordinance drastically restricting winery tastings. The Examiner reported that Fauquier officials were, “warned by the county attorney and Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore that such restrictions are illegal.” They did it anyway, and the wineries are now preparing a lawsuit.
The American Thinker mused, “Reading the order against the farm issued by Fauquier County Zoning Administrator Kimberley Johnson, one may confuse Fauquier for an anti-family banana republic.” Medieval feudalism might be more accurate.
The American Thinker went on to note, “Not all victims of Ms. Johnson's lawbreaking are wealthy enough to assert their rights through civil actions. And that's how bureaucrats build on their arrogant lawbreaking. They bully citizens who are good, mind-their-own business types, or who lack the resources to file suit.”
The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, has joined PAA in their fight against Fauquier County.
The next step is a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday, August 2nd. Since this column will be published after the hearing, you should be able to Google “Fauquier Right to Farm” on Friday to find out the result.
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 email@example.com