A previously apolitical organic farmer in Virginia has set off a property rights revolution that would make Founders Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights George Mason proud.
Martha Boneta had a business license for her tiny farm store in scenic Paris, Virginia, yet she was threatened with fines of up to $5,000 per violation per day for selling organic tea and wool products crafted from her rescued animals, and for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls.
Officials from Fauquier County using zoning ordinances to bully Mrs. Boneta never obtained a warrant nor set foot on her property to gather actual evidence. Instead a county bureaucrat relied on unscrupulous, unlawful methods to make these charges against Mrs. Boneta. Her store remains closed out of fear of further uncertain charges carrying even criminal penalties. The bullying bureaucrat ignored due process of law and American rules of evidence because she thinks she is the law, which is a common phenomenon used to intimidate citizens into forfeiting their rights.
The county also tried to cite Martha for having a boarding facility without a permit. It appears that the county did not like the fact that she and Christian college students interning on Spring Break openly prayed over the crops and farm animals.
To cure this government lawbreaking and protect farm rights, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter introduced H.B. 1430, the Boneta Bill, to amend the Virginia Right to Farm Act. As introduced, the bill would have done three things: (1) clarify that the flawed, toothless Right to Farm Act protects farmers’ commerce, (2) expressly protect constitutional rights on farms, and (3) provide remedies against local government officials who violate the Right to Farm Act.
The bill is wildly popular among small farm owners, property rights activists, Tea Partiers and even many Democrats, yet met opposition from special interests in Richmond including Farm Bureau, the insurance company that may be best described as the AARP of farming.
The Virginia legislature is controlled by the GOP, yet establishment Republicans chose special interests over principles. The bill was amended to remove the constitutional protections and remedies against lawbreaking bureaucrats.
The Virginia House passed the weakened bill, but first added another amendment that appears to be in violation of Article IV, Section 13 of the Virginia Constitution, which governs effective dates of bills passed. The amendment made the bill ineffective unless reenacted by a new legislature that is to convene in 2014. This tactic would give the special interests in Richmond a year to horse-trade God-given rights of farmers, who happen to work for a living and cannot be in Richmond to wine and dine the decision makers and powerbrokers.
Certain members of the GOP even said that the “stakeholders” need to weigh in. “Stakeholders” is a term developed by progressives for the government to give rights to some at the expense of rights for all. It’s an offensive term that allows government to pick winners and losers when God-given rights are involved.
Richmond’s political establishment is in a tizzy because of the grassroots pushback over the Boneta Bill, which one legislator said she’d never seen the likes of which before. As evidenced by their constitutionally questionable trick of passing the bill without an effective date, they obviously fear voter retribution if they were to outright defeat the bill to satisfy the special interests, which include county lobbyists trying to protect government lawbreaking.
The Boneta Bill has coalesced people and diverse grassroots organizations. As importantly, it has exposed a host of issues, including the hypocrisy of establishment Republicans who pay lip service to liberty and property rights, yet side with special interests against our freedoms.
Among the issues exposed are the use of government subsidies for big farms and the process of conservation easements that subvert private property rights with a smiley face. Boneta Bill champion Donna Holt of the Virginia Campaign for Liberty calls these easements “socialized capitalism for the rich,” and writes:
“The farmer is most often forced to place his land into a conservation easement to save it in response to the very strict land use regulations and expensive permits for every conceivable use of land. The noose is further tightened by limiting commerce, by permit only, to only raw produce.”
The McDonnell administration has not taken a position on the Boneta Bill, but is actively promoting conservation easements, which use government subsidies as an anesthetic at the expense of private property rights and free markets. Just Virginia alone has up to $100 million in tax credits available for these easements.
The bill is now before the Virginia Senate. The fate of freedom for small farmers remains an amendment and a vote away. Whatever the outcome of the Boneta Bill, it has set off a national debate – even a revolution – on property rights, farm food freedom, remedies against bullying, lawbreaking bureaucrats, and a host of other issues.
Virginia Farmer Holds Party for Little Girls, Fined $15,000
Martha Boneta owns a small farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, where she recently hosted a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls. They wore hats, picked veggies, and made goat’s milk soap. The county says she should have obtain a license before hosting such an event and hit her with a $5,000 fine.
Boneta also got slammed with two more fines for $5,000 each, one for advertising a pumpkin carving and another for violations in the small shop on her property. Boneta sells produce from her farm, as well as eggs, yarn, birdhouses, and local crafts. She sought and received a license for the shop in 2011, but the county now says she can’t sell handiwork or produce from her neighbors under that license.
On August 2, about 100 of those neighbors and other concerned citizens gathered at the Board of Zoning Appeals with the tools of their trade in hand: pitchforks. The zoning board says permits are available for many of the types of events Boneta wants to hold, but in an interview with Reason this afternoon she questions why anyone would need a permit for a small gathering on their own property in the first place.
We’re seasonal producers. We’re only open from June to December. We’re only open 7 hours a week. This is customary for seasonal producers. If somebody wants to carve a pumpkin, why do I need a permit for them to do that?…
I don’t know why this is happening, but I do know that part of being a farmer means selling to the community what you produce on your farm.