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VIRGINIA GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL CUTTING REGULATIONS ON FAMILY FARMS
Source: Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund news release

Virginia Senate Bill 51 (SB51), a landmark bill creating more economic opportunities and decreasing regulations for Virginia's family farms was signed last Thursday by Governor Terry McAuliffe. The new law takes effect July 1, 2014.

The law will increase consumer access to locally produced food, as well as giving farmers new markets and a more favorable regulatory climate.

The new law limits the power of local government. Localities can no longer prohibit agri-tourism activities unless they have a substantial impact on the public's health, safety and welfare. Localities also cannot require a permit for agri-tourism activities, except in limited circumstances.

Under the new law, on-farm stores selling foods produced by other farms will not be required to have either a state or local permit. The bill also frees farmers to sell more non-food products in their farm stores than they have in the past by eliminating both state and local permitting requirements.

A Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund member, farmer Martha Boneta, was the driving force behind the bill. In 2012, Boneta was accused by Fauquier County zoning officials with multiple permitting violations and threatened with fines for activities on her farm, including pumpkin carvings, yoga classes and a child's birthday party.

"I want to thank Gov. McAuliffe, the members of the General Assembly, the Virginia Farm Bureau and all those who have rallied to the defense of family farmers," Boneta said. "After all my family and I have been through, it is a blessing that the rights of farmers as entrepreneurs can be upheld."

Due to the publicity Boneta's case raised, the State Department of Agriculture called for an On-Farm-Activities Working Group (OFAWG) to work on the issue over last summer. Members of the working group represented the entire spectrum of farming organizations, from the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (VICFA) to the Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Agribusiness Council.

The working group made recommendations, eventually leading to the bill being introduced in January 2014. The final bill was forged with bi-partisan support and the agreement of OFAWG members.

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia served on the OFAWG Committee. He says, "In a day when innovative farmers feel stifled by tightening government regulations, passage of SB51, known as the farm activities bill, is like a gentle reprieve. The Wine Growers in Virginia won these concessions a decade ago and finally farmers who grow other things have the same freedoms.

Farmers may now wear some of the middle-man hats (where the profits are) and bring historically-normal processing and public interactive activities back to the farm. Farmers who have been relegated to colonists growing raw commodities for urban processing, marketing, and distribution may now express their entrepreneurial savvy in their communities. This is a great win for farmers who want to interact directly with their customers."

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund actively supported the legislation. Fund President Pete Kennedy says, "This will keep more of Virginia food dollars in state, and keep the most environmentally conscious stewards on the land."

The new law applies to farming operations located on land zoned agricultural. A farming operation is defined as an enterprise devoted to bona fide production of crops, animals, or fowl. The law also covers farms producing fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, poultry and dairy products. Farmers producing forestry, nursery and floral products are also covered.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund defends the rights and broadens the freedoms of family farms and artisan food producers while protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient-dense foods. Those concerned can support the FTCLDF, a U.S. based 501(c) nonprofit, by joining or donating online at www.farmtoconsumer.org or by calling 703-208-FARM (3276).


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