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Talking Points – On Farm Activities

In the 2013 General Assembly Session, some Richmond legislators tried to tell Rockingham and other farm communities how to define “farming” and appropriate rural land uses.

County Opposed Farm Activities Bill

The lawmakers were responding to disgruntled landowners from other parts of the state who were unable to secure local zoning approval for a commercial activity on their farm. A well-organized lobby wants state lawmakers to challenge the rights of local communities to make local land use decisions and a mandate for blanket approval for unlimited commercial activities on farms.

Eliminating local zoning control and allowing any commercial activities on farms threatens the heritage, character and vitality of our rural lands and communities.  Such action would let rural landowners sell non-farm products and host special events unrelated to farm production, which does nothing to strengthen our agricultural economy.

One size does not fit all when it comes to farming in Virginia.

Farm practices and products vary widely across the state and so should local zoning and farm vitality programs. The Shenandoah Valley’s huge poultry and dairy sectors are not comparable to the Eastern Shore’s tomato and soybean fields. A vineyard on a narrow mountain road in Bedford raises different access questions than one off Route 3 in Westmoreland.

On-farm activities should be closely related to agriculture.

Does the proposed activity add real value to the farm’s products? Does it increase farm production? Or does it simply add income with no agricultural connection? You don’t need a farm to get married. You do need an orchard to pick apples.

Local governments balance farm interests.

It takes understanding of the unique character of a county’s farm community to determine if a proposed farm event or other activity enhances agricultural viability without negative impacts on neighbors or the community at large. County governments can use local insight to balance competing interests and impacts on safety, transportation, water and other important resources.

Local governments address concerns.

Supervisors and city council members represent government at a level closest to the citizens served. If a farm landowner isn’t happy with a zoning decision, they can attend local meetings, serve on committees or even run for local office to foster change.  If they don’t succeed, they should not expect a state legislator to secure a directive from Richmond on a local land use decision.

Mandates from Richmond should not trump local land use priorities.

A sweeping mandate from the state legislature on how to handle local zoning for on-farm activities sends a message that local citizens and their elected officials can’t make good decisions. State officials don’t like intrusive federal mandates that impact state authority. So they should not turn around and intrude on local authority over farm zoning.

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