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Author Topic: Pitchfork-wielding Virginia farmers rally against birthday party fine

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Pitchfork-wielding Virginia farmers rally against birthday party fine  By Perry Chiaramonte
Published August 10, 2012     
  • pitchforkprotest.jpg  Farmers gather at a  Board of Zoning Appeals meeting in Fauquier County Virginia to hold a "Pitchfork Protest" in support of Liberty Farms owner Martha Boneta.
    Pitchfork-wielding Virginia farmers rallied to support a woman who claims local officials came down on her for, among other things, hosting a children's birthday party on her spread.
Martha Boneta, owner of Liberty Farms in the northern village of Paris, was threatened with nearly $5,000 in fines for selling produce and crafts and throwing unlicensed events, including a birthday party for her best friend's child. She told she wasn't doing anything farmers haven't done for generations, and at a recent zoning board meeting, her agrarian friends literally showed up with pitchforks to express their support.
“It’s rather odd that I’m the only farmer in the county having these issues,” Boneta said. “It’s customary to do these things. It’s done through on farms throughout Virginia to help farming and agriculture.”
Boneta was told that she did not have the proper event permits for the party and other events, including wine tastings, craft workshops, and pumpkin carving.
“Why I would need a permit for a pumpkin carving?” she said.
Boneta was also threatened with fines for selling produce and products not grown or made on the 70-acre farm in a small store she operated on the property. But she said she already had a special license issued to her in 2011 that allowed her to run a “retail farm shop” where at the time, she made it clear that she intended to sell handspun yarns and craft items like birdhouses in addition to fresh vegetables, eggs, and herbs.
But in the same year, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors changed “farm sales” classification to require a special permit for activities that were previous including under the license. Fauquier County Zoning Administrator Kimberley Johnson told Boneta is out of line.
“There were a multitude of violations," Johnson said, adding that issuing a warning is standard practice in the county for such violations.
Boneta said her farm produces "tons of vegetables" every year, including the items she sells. She blames an angry neighbor for siccing the village on her.
“It’s unfortunate that the county would do this on the complaint of one person. They never even came to the farm to see for themselves,” she added.
Johnson said that Boneta would be able to continue so long as she obtains the proper permits; “She can get an administrative permit for 90 percent of the events being held.”
Boneta gained the support of other farmers in the county who feared that they would face similar fines and joined her at a hearing on Aug. 2, where they held a “pitchfork protest” in which they held signs and farming tools in support of Liberty Farms and its owner.
The zoning board’s warning was upheld during the hearing but Boneta plans to appeal again.
Boneta has since closed up the store but is still farming her 70-acre property, preparing for the upcoming harvest and will be meeting with the other county farmers to plan the next step in protesting the zoning boards handling of the situation.
“This affects every farmer. It affects our ability to earn a living to produce and sell on our own land,” she said.
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