New law affirms right to farm, grants freedom from government overreach

state-capitol-headerHB 268 becomes law in Virginia today, protecting certain activities at agricultural operations from local regulation. One of the first bills signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe, the non-partisan legislation became statewide law at the urging of grassroots organizations and individuals.

The bill becoming law marks the latest chapter in a controversy that attracted nationwide attention in 2012 when the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors forced family farmer Martha Boneta to cease selling produce from her own 64-acre farm. No longer allowed to sell the vegetables she had harvested, Boneta donated the food to local charities rather than let it go to waste.

Boneta is a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), which offered her legal aid during the crisis. She is a keynote speaker at the FTCLDF 2014 Farm Freedom Fest in September, along with Joel Salatin, another farmer who worked alongside her on this bill.

Fauquier County officials threatened Boneta with $15,000 per-day fines for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without a permit, and for advertising pumpkin carvings. Seeing the county’s action against Boneta as a brazen effort to drive her off her land, Virginians from all walks of life rallied to her defense.  Supporters gathered in Warrenton, the county seat, for a peaceful “pitchfork protest” to vent their anger over what an out-of-control local government had done to a law-abiding citizen.

In the 2013 session of the General Assembly, Rep. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) led an effort to undo the injustice inflicted on Boneta, and to protect other farmers from similar abuse, by strengthening Virginia’s Right to Farm Act.  What became known as the “Boneta Bill” passed the House by an overwhelming margin but it was killed by a Senate committee.Undeterred, Boneta and her supporters came back to the General Assembly in 2014 winning wide bipartisan approval for legislation protecting the rights of family farmers.

The bill signed by Gov. McAuliffe grew out of legislation developed by Rep. Bobby Orrick (R-Thornburg) and Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Montross) and supported by, among others, Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax). Backed by the Virginia Farm Bureau, the new law protects customary activities at agricultural operations from local bans in the absence of substantial impacts on public welfare.  It also prohibits localities from requiring a special-use permit for a host of farm-related activities that are specified in the bill.

“I am grateful to all the Virginians and legislators from across the Commonwealth who rallied for non-partisan legislation that provides economic opportunity for small family farmers, access to consumers and allows the great traditions of farming in Virginia to flourish,” said Boneta.  “It is gratifying to see Virginians, working together across party lines, rewarded by a law that enables family farms to prosper as our founding fathers intended.”

To celebrate the new agricultural law, a flag is flying today over the US Capitol in honor of Virginia’s farm freedom legislation.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund defends the rights and broadens the freedoms of family farms and artisan food producers while protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient-dense foods. Those concerned can support the FTCLDF, a U.S. based 501(c)(4) nonprofit, by joining or donating online at www.farmtoconsumer.org or by calling 703-208-FARM (3276).

About Martha’s Farm: Paris Barns is a historic working farm in Paris, Virginia offering farm fresh seasonal organic vegetables, fresh and dried herbs, honey and honey bee products, eggs (chicken, duck, turkey and emu), hand-made soaps and alpaca, llama and sheep’s wool crafts and more.