By Karen Kwiatkowski
There is a bill in the Virginia House that should be of local interest. The "Freedom to Farm Without Fear," aka the Boneta Bill (HB 1430), is being offered to remedy the kind of treatment Martha Boneta in Fauquier County and others have been getting from their local government.
If you haven't heard the story, here's what happened. Boneta has a family farm (Liberty Farm) with a farm store (Paris Barns), and she hosted a birthday party for a friend. A not-to-be named person saw pictures of the party on Boneta's Facebook page, and then reported this "event" to the county. Fauquier County then proceeded to apply convoluted zoning laws to shut down her farm and store, and fined her thousands of dollars. By the way, Boneta's farm is already zoned agricultural. But the byzantine code developed by Fauquier County bureaucrats places ultimate power over her private property in their smooth, soft hands. Her story made national headlines, and it ranks right up there with the city councils that bulldoze suburban gardens and forbid children's lemonade stands.
We all have our favorite stories about government idiocy. But just because a government policy destroys jobs, discourages innovation and micromanages our lives doesn't mean it won't be enforced with both vigor and viciousness.
Enter HB 1430, patroned by state delegates Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, and Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson). The Washington Examiner summarized the bill, saying "First, it amends the definition of agricultural operation to include the sale of farm products, both those produced on the farm itself and farm-related items brought in from other places, such as handcrafted items, honey and even bottled water. ...[The bill will] void any county ordinances that in any way violate the constitutional right of farmers in Virginia to engage in traditional, self-sustaining agriculture activities on their own property.
Lastly, HB 1430 "would make county officials subject to the same criminal fines and penalties, plus attorneys' fees, that they improperly seek to impose on hard-working farmers."
You may be thinking, don't we already have a Freedom to Farm law in Virginia? Yes, we do. And you may recall that in November, Virginians just voted to strengthen private property rights by amending our constitution. Now, HB 1430 would drive home those sentiments by having Richmond protect farmers and food producers from their own elected local government.
Local freedom preserved by the power of the distant state capitol. It's not the ideal situation, by any means. Perhaps there is nothing more tyrannical than a petty local bureaucrat, and that fact may justify more rules from Richmond. Certainly, HB 1430 is welcome and it would be great to see delegates from our own area proudly step on board and patron this bill.
There is another bill relating to food freedom in Virginia. It's HB 1839, "Virginia Food Freedom Act," and it provides that there will be no restrictions for the sale of foods that are processed in the home or on a farm and sold directly to consumers, as long as it has a label that states the name of the producer, address, ingredients and the disclosure "not government inspected." Del. Lingamfelter is also the patron of this bill, and it is even more friendly to real freedom than the "Boneta Bill."
However, this bill is actually far more dangerous to politicians in Richmond.
The Virginia Food Freedom Act, rather than having Richmond protect citizens from their local governments, has Richmond directly challenging the Washington, D.C. food bureaucracy. It's a simple, common sense bill, and it is a bill that embraces farm freedom in a way that, like HB 1430, will reduce farmer and food producer anxiety and promote Virginia entrepreneurialism.
The Virginia Food Freedom Act and the Boneta Bill should not be necessary in a free country, and they should not be necessary in a state that already has codified a so-called "Freedom to Farm." But they are.
You can find out more about these bills at lis.virginia.gov.
Karen Kwiatkowski is a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, a farmer, a part time professor, and a liberty-minded conservative. She writes from the southwestern edge of Shenandoah County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org