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'Pitchfork protest' leads to proposed updates to Va. farming rights

Wednesday - 1/9/2013, 6:50am  ET

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Martha Boneta holds wool from sheep she raises on her Fauquier County farm. She spoke to reporters Tuesday at the Virginia Capitol about a bill that would strengthen the rights of farmers and clarify that they can sell farm-produced products on their properties. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

RICHMOND,Va. - A dispute over a pumpkin patch and a birthday party that sparked a "pitchfork protest" by local farmers is now headed to the Virginia General Assembly.

Martha Boneta owns a 70-acre farm in Paris, Va., where she grows all sorts of products. But Fauquier County has threatened to fine her thousands of dollars claiming she violated her business permits by holding a birthday party on her farm for her friend's 10-year-old daughter and by selling things from her barn.

The dispute is still in court even after dozens of farmers showed up to protest at a county zoning board meeting in support of Boneta. But Boneta's plight has prompted a bill that could more clearly define the right to farm across the Virginia.

"Farming is not just seeds in the ground that produce vegetables," Boneta says. "It's the opportunity to bring people to the land to buy from us directly. It's the by-products and the accessory products that go along with farming."

Boneta says the fight with the county started after she advertised pumpkin carvings and someone complained.

So Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, is sponsoring legislation (HB 1430) that will guarantee Virginia farmers the right to sell what they produce.

The legislation specifically says the state's farmers may sell by-products. such as art, food, beverages, artifacts and even literature and furniture if the items are made with material grown on the farm.

For example, they can sell tomatoes, but also tomato sauce. Under the measure, they could sell not only the wool from their sheep but also products they produce from that wool such as sweaters.

Boneta wanted to sell souvenir pictures of the sheep that produced the wool.

Property rights advocates have taken up Boneta's cause in the General Assembly and are backing Lingamfelter's bill.

They say they expect opposition from larger farm owners and some environmental groups.

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