Zoning aims to cram all human activity into neat little boxes: residential, commercial, agricultural. The system does not easily accommodate new, line-blurring ideas and practices, as Jordan Stevens learned when planning officials told her she was not allowed to host goat yoga classes on her farm in rural Hamilton County, Indiana.
Since 2018, Stevens and her partner had been running goat yoga classes—where people strike traditional yoga poses while goats clamber on and around them—out of a local counseling center. When the pandemic shut down the counseling center, Stevens shifted the operation to her farm, Happy Goat Lucky Acres. The move allowed her to hold classes in a safer outdoor environment while eliminating the need to lug her Nigerian dwarf goats back and forth.
It was the only full-time goat yoga business in the state, and it was a good arrangement for Stevens' goats as well as her customers. "They thrive on human interaction," she says. "On the farm, we have a separate pen that we do the classes in, and they run straight into that."
But this win-win for humans and goats didn't sit well with Hamilton County officials. The local planning department wasn't kidding around in July 2021 when it sent Stevens an email informing her that goat yoga was not allowed on her agricultural land. While her property's zoning allowed her to raise goats and sell goat products, goat yoga was out of the question. If Stevens wanted to operate her business legally, she would have to apply for a zoning variance.
The news was a blow for Stevens. Running her business from her farm was more cost-effective and convenient, especially because she has multiple sclerosis, which makes it difficult to work outside her home.
But with few other options, Stevens tried to jump through the county's hoops. It cost about $1,000 in fees, plus some $4,000 in revenue lost because she had to pause her business for two months.
It was all for naught. In September, the county's Board of Zoning Appeals rejected Stevens' application for a variance.
Fortunately, Stevens was able to finish out the rest of her season, which runs from May through October, at the fairgrounds in neighboring Tipton County. But the added expense and hassle of moving the classes off the farm left her wondering whether she will continue offering goat yoga classes.
"It sucks," Stevens says. "They take so much money from people who are already taxpayers, and then we can't even do the things we want to on our own property that aren't even hurting anyone."