Panel amends, okays ‘Boneta Bill’

By Jessica Dahlberg
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Supporters of the so-called Boneta Bill, aimed at protecting the rights of farmers, came to Capitol Square wearing pitchfork buttons with stickers that said, “Stay out of grandma’s kitchen.” They lined the wall of a conference room where the House Agriculture Subcommittee met Monday to decide whether to recommend approval of the measure.

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-WoodBridge) speaks to supporters after the hearing. "I think it moves the bill forward," he said in reference to the amendment added to HB1430. "It's not everything you want, but with the legislative process you don't get everything you want." Photo by Jessica Dahlberg
Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-WoodBridge) speaks to supporters after the hearing. “I think it moves the bill forward,” he said in reference to the amendment added to HB1430. “It’s not everything you want, but with the legislative process you don’t get everything you want.” Photo by Jessica Dahlberg

Virginians in support of the bill and lobbyists against it came from all over the state to share their perspective. After an hour of debate, the subcommittee voted 6-1 in support of the legislation.

House Bill 1430, sponsored by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, now goes to the full House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. The committee is scheduled to consider the proposal Wednesday [Jan. 30].

The subcommittee did not approve the original bill but instead added an amendment.

The amendment would require the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to look at the state’s existing Right to Farm Act and the issues surrounding it, and create model regulations for the entire state. The General Assembly would vote on the regulations in 2014.

The amendment will “allow the issue to be considered in a more timely manner,” Delegate Robert Orrock, R-Thornburg, said. “I don’t feel comfortable voting on a bill today that the Farm Bureau and Agribusiness Council” do not agree with.

The amendment also changes the expanded definition of agricultural operations.

Under the original wording of HB 1430, agricultural operations would include farm-to-business and farm-to-consumer sales. It also mentioned specific items such as art, literature, artifacts, furniture, food and beverages.

The amendment removed the specific listing of items.

Supporters of the original bill had a positive reaction to the subcommittee’s vote.

“Anything that’s good for the small farmer is a step in the right direction,” Martha Boneta, the bill’s namesake, said.

Trey Davis, governmental representative for the Virginia Farm Bureau, said the amendment addressed some of his group’s concerns. But he said the Farm Bureau still has some issues with the bill. He said the bureau believes the current law has it right.

“What’s been so beneficial about the Right to Farm Act is that it gives localities the ability to promote ordinances that protect agro-tourism and value-added products,” Davis said.

The Boneta Bill has been in the national spotlight since August 2012 when Fauquier County officials cited Boneta with violations for hosting seasonal events and selling handicrafts.

Boneta said the county fined her for having a children’s birthday party on her farm. She said county officials found out about the party by looking at the Facebook page for her business, Paris Barns.

Photo by Jessica Dahlberg
Photo by Jessica Dahlberg

Kimberley Johnson, the chief of zoning and development services for Fauquier County, said Boneta was not fined for anything. She said the violation was for selling goods not produced on her farm.

“To our understanding of what (Boneta) wanted to do, she needed to get an administrative permit,” Johnson said. “The permit would have cost $150.”

The permit would have allowed county staff to confirm that the public had safe access and sufficient parking, as well as adequate restroom facilities.

Besides the Boneta Bill, the House Agriculture Subcommittee also considered HB 1839. It sought to allow private homes and farms to make foodstuffs without being subject to regulations that apply to larger food establishments.

The subcommittee rejected the measure and recommended that it be tabled.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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1 Comment

  1. AMEN. Praise the Lord! We pray this Bill passes in Virginia. My wife and I have been trying to keep our kids on the farm and have been doing everything from pumpkin patches, corn mazes, pick your own berries to harvesting timber.

    It is definately feast or famine for the small family farmer in Virginia. Over the years we have taken out equity on the farm to pay for kids braces, tuitions, etc. and to just keep us going.

    Our county has become anti-small family farmer and anti-American. Everything is so regulated these days – so much so that our children have no desire to make the farm a way of life for them moving forward. They believe that there is no future for the small family farmer because of over regulation. It kills us to know that this farm will not stay in the family but frankly, we have been suffocated to death. We have decided we would rather sell it and see 350 homes in a subdivision on our land than deal with the bureaucrats that make our life hell.

    The notion of a conservation easement just means more restrictions and I don’t want the burden of having to beg for a dog house or a run-in shed or a hoop house that I may not even think about at the time of drafting an easement. We have heard of HORROR stories dealing with these land trusts – bait and switch mentality “you will be able to farm for generations blah blah blah” and then once sucked in, it’s hell on earth.

    So this Bill means hope to our family and to so many of our neighbors. Frankly, we have always sold all kinds of things at the farm like Christmas tree wreaths that we don’t make ourselves, cold drinks in the summer time, some postcards of the farm and crafty items. WE WERE SHOCKED to learn of this rogue county actions and think HB1430 is not only necessary but MANDATORY to keep small farmers interested in farming.

    Otherwise, I say bring on the FRACKING, strip malls, subsidy housing and anything else to bring in money to the family.

    You can’t have it both ways! You can’t strangle us to death over agriculturally related goods on a farm zoned agriculture and then at the same time say you don’t want us to turn our farms in to Walmarts and strip malls.

    Either way, this BILL gives us hope for a change. Lots of bad news in the press. Good to see something good for the little guy coming out of Richmond.

    My two cents. But then I am not a fancy pants lobbyist so I’m sure Farm Bureau will kill off all the small family farmers in the end. Shame really.

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