Virginia Victory: Boneta Bill Grants ‘Freedom to Farm’

With so much doom-and-gloom ag legislation news to report, it's nice to see that Virginia's legislators actually give a crap about their farmers.

We already talked about the changes to Michigan’s Right to Farm Act, upcoming regulations for Illinois’ raw-milk producers and the Environmental Protection Agency’s probable approval of the new 2,4-D/glyphosate herbicide cocktail. (You spoke out on all of those issues, right?) In light of all of the crummy stuff, I’m happy to write about a piece of legislation that makes nice with farmers.

On July 1, 2014, HB268/SB51 took effect, extending protections afforded by Virginia’s Right to Farm Act. (The title of this bill, incidentally, is “Agricultural operations; local regulation of certain activities,” which is the least sexy title I’ve ever heard for a piece of legislation.)

Now, certain farm activities—including agritourism, sales and food prep that comply with state law—are protected from additional local regulation as long as the activities don’t harm the public’s health, safety or welfare. (Alcoholic-beverage control laws are still in effect, and farm wineries still have their own set of rules, too.)

This is a small bit of relief for farmers in a state that is caught between crazy urban sprawl and population growth and a rich agricultural heritage and future. Unreasonable scrutiny, harassment and the introduction of nit-picky new local laws are, it appears, not going to be part of Virginia farmers’ futures.

Getting Here
This delightful bill stems from legal action against farmer Martha Boneta, of Liberty Farm, who hosted a birthday party on her farm without a permit in 2012. People didn’t like the way the government intervention was handled, they spoke out, and Virginia listened. The “Boneta Bill” was developed with input by a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services task force, which included Boneta; Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farm (who everyone reading this blog should already know); and representatives from the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, VA Agribusiness and Virginia Farm Bureau.

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It took a few years to get here, but this bill gives a little hope to those of us working at the grassroots level to effect change on a larger scale. (Check out the catchy little tune in the video below to learn more.)

Say Thank You
For all of the Virginia legislators’ efforts, the nonprofit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is asking you to email a note of thanks to the bill’s supporters as a way to show your stand with Virginia farmers. Sending the email will take you four minutes, it’s free, and it’s a nice thing to say thanks to people who hear a lot of griping pretty much all day long.

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