Virginia Farmer Holds Party for Little Girls, Sells Tomatoes and Yarn, Gets Slammed With $15,000 in Fines


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.

Boneta is appealing the decision, but in the meantime she has 2,000 tomato plants, 1,000 eggplants, and crop rows of kale and other vegetables ready to pop, and she's not sure how she's going to sell them.

Boneta isn't the only victim of Fauquier County's newfound zeal for agricultural regs: The Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance dramatically limiting what area wineries can do on their grounds. Events after 6 p.m. are no longer permitted. Sales of food by wineries are prohibited, as are extra attractions such as farmers markets, mini-golf, or whatever else officials deem "to be similar in nature or in impact to" the listed activities.

Perhaps the most offensive provision of the ordinance authorizes "private personal gatherings" at wineries. Someone obviously forgot to tell Fauquier officials that in America, we don't need government permission for private personal gatherings on our own property.

Yet even in their contempt for the freedom of assembly and private property rights, Fauquier officials limited the definition of "private personal gathering" to owners who reside at or adjacent to their wineries, and who do not market their wine at such gatherings. This means no winery signs—no bottle labels, even, when owners hold private personal gatherings on their property, because that's marketing.

Paging the Institute for Justice!

Also, paging Virginia "Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic" famer activist Joel Salatin!

UPDATE: See the pitchfork protest here: