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No sale: Panel rejects ‘Boneta’ bid to broaden Right to Farm law

By   /   February 15, 2013  /   No Comments

PACKED HOUSE: Martha Boneta, in foreground, was amidst the crowd that filled the Senate Agriculture Committee room Thursday. (Photo by Katie Watson)

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND – An attempt to insert commerce clauses into Virginia’s Right to Farm law was rejected by a Senate committee Thursday.

House Bill 1430 was defeated in the Senate Agriculture Committee, but the measure’s patron, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, vowed to try again next year. So did supporters who packed the committee room.

“Remember, the eminent domain amendment that passed with approval of nearly 75 percent of Virginia voters in 2012 took five years to get through the General Assembly before it was added to the ballot,” noted Mark Fitzgibbons, an attorney and property-rights advocate in Northern Virginia.

Tea party activist and former U.S. Senate hopeful Jamie Radtke told Watchdog.org: “We live in an upside world when politicians are fickle about supporting the right of farmers to grow and sell products on their small farms.

“However, the unprecedented citizen involvement in the legislative process is quickly exposing these absurdities and will hopefully bring about positive change in a broken political system.”

The “Boneta Bill” was named for Martha Boneta. The Fauquier County farmer was assessed thousands of dollars in fines for selling farm products on her property without a special permit. She has since closed her 70-acre Liberty Farm and is suing the county for $2 million.

The House of Delegates had passed the Boneta bill 77-22, but the measure died in the Senate committee on an 11-4 vote.

The bill, even in diluted form, was opposed by the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Farm Bureau, which said its approach was overly broad.

Delegate Bobby Orrock, R-Thornburg, said stricter language was needed to prevent entrepreneurial farms from morphing into “mini-Wamarts.”

Orrock’s so-called “Pickle Bill,” HB 1852, cleared the ag committee, 10-0.

The measure allows for the home-sale of certain food products — including dried fruits and pickles — without inspection by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The items must bear labels listing the name, address and the telephone number of the person preparing the product, along with a disclaimer that the farm or residence has not been inspected by the state.

Sales are limited to $3,000 annually, and cannot be conducted via Internet or off-site retail stores.

Orrick told the Free Lance-Star that the “Pickle Bill,” which withered on the vine at previous legislative sessions, represents a “marked expansion” of the ability of smaller farmers to sell their goods.

Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward


Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.