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.
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.
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.