Virginia farmer threatened with $5K fine for hosting child's birthday party

Fauquier County is only about an hour from the nation’s capital but it feels like a different world— rolling hills dotted with vineyards, idyllic horse farms, and stifling regulations and ridiculous penalties meted out by capricious bureaucrats. Wait, what?

Well, I guess it’s not that easy to get away from it all. Martha Boneta, who owns a small local farm, found that out the hard way when she was threatened with $5,000 in fines for not getting the proper permit to sell produce and host 10-year-old’s birthday party on her property.

Boneta already had a business license the county issued her in June 2011 that allowed her to operate a “retail farm shop” on her property. Her license application specifically noted her intention to sell handspun yarns, birdhouses, soaps and other handicrafts in addition to fresh vegetables, eggs, herbs and honey.

The following month, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors changed the classification of “farm sales” to require a special administrative permit for activities that were in compliance with the ordinance just one month before. But documents received under the Freedom of Information Act showed that Boneta is the only farmer in Fauquier County who has ever been cited — even though the county’s own website lists dozens of farms that sell similar products to end-use customers.

Zoning Administrator Kimberley Johnson, who issued a cease-and-desist letter to Boneta, found a picture of the birthday party in question on Boneta’s Facebook, citing it as evidence of her wrongdoing.

The county is home to many small farmers making a living selling all the artisanal and local goods a growing yuppie needs, and they’re worried Fauquier’s unfriendly zoning administrator will continue to be bad for business. Farmers and their supporters rallied August 2 at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, where Boneta’s lawyer asked for reconsideration. She did not prevail, but the fight’s not over. Fauquier farmers believe the zoning rules are a violation of the state’s Right to Farm Act.

My friend Sean Malone was on hand for what the farmers called a Pitchfork Protest. Take a peek at the dangerous types Fauquier County is protecting its citizens from:

Fauquier’s runaway zoning board is also threatening the thriving local wine business:

Fauquier this past week, though, passed a new county ordinance requiring wineries to close their doors at 6 p.m. and requiring them to pay the county for special permits for such things as extended hours and catered food. Because of one or two wineries where bacchanalia has caused grief for some neighbors, the county decided to punish all wineries…oh, and to make more money off its theft of liberty, too.

Keep it up, guys, and you’ll have nothing left to zone.

These local food regulation issues, where government frequently oversteps its bounds to “protect” us from delicious zucchinis and fresh milk, are a great way to illustrate to your liberal, locavore friends that an ever-expanding government might not always have their best interests at heart.

Credit to Will Clayton for the front-page photo.

Update: The great Institute for Justice is a public-interest law firm that specializes in helping small businesses with few resources fight these fights, and they’re on Boneta’s side.