Virginia Groups Compromise for New Agritourism Bill

Posted January 20, 2014

A new bill addressing the rights of Virginia farmers to conduct agritourism activities was introduced after HB 1430, The Right to Farm Act, failed to pass the state’s Senate Agriculture Committee last year according to an article by Global News Wire available here.

The new bill, HB 268, was introduced on January 8, 2014 by Delegate Bobby Orrock.  A companion bill, SB51 was filed by Senator Richard Stuart.  The compromise bill is the work of a state-appointed task force which brought farming groups and opposing views together. 

The new bill and the failed bill introduced last year are a reaction to a 2012 incident.  Martha Boneta faced fines after she hosted a child’s birthday party and held other activities at her farm such as pumpkin carving, according to an article by the Canada Free Press available here.  Fauquier County deemed the party illegal because it lacked a permit. 

In 2011, the County issued Boneta a special license to run a “farm retail shop” to sell handspun yarn, fresh vegetables, herbs, honey, and craft items such as birdhouses.  In 2011, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors changed the “farm sales classification” to require a special permit for activities “not previously included in the permit.”

Boneta faced fines of $5,000 per violation for hosting the birthday party without a “site plan,” advertising one wine tasting, selling postcards of rescued farm animals, among others.

HB 268 summarizes agricultural operations and local regulation of certain activities, “protecting customary agritourism activities from local bans in the absence of substantial impacts on the public welfare and requires certain localities to take certain factors into account when regulating agritourism activities.”  A basis in health, safety, or public welfare is required for a local ordinance to restrict activities such as “agritourism, sale of agricultural or silvicultural products, related items, preparation or sale of foods that already comply with state laws, and other customary activities.”  Local boards are also “prohibited from subjecting these activities to a special-use permit requirement.”

For more information on agritourism, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.