When Dan Gisselquist wished to teach business principles to his home schooled son Jesse, he started by having him write a proposal for project of his choice.
At 12, he chose to write a proposal to keep chickens. When the proposal passed muster, Gisselquist helped his son build a chicken coop and bought him some chickens. A year later, Jesse wrote a second proposal for turkeys. Together with his father’s seed money, Jesse was able to build an impressive home business for a 14 year old. He now sells baby chicks, baby turkey poults, organic turkeys, and chicken eggs.
What neither Gisselquist counted on was legal trouble for their lawful activities: on 14 April, the Fauquier County Magistrate, C. M. Harding, heard the complaints of Mrs. Elizabeth Connell, regarding the chickens, turkeys, and guinea kept by her neighbor’s, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Gisselquist.
Upon hearing her complaint, Mr. Harding wrote a citation against the Gisselquists, alleging that they did “unlawfully keep noisy animals which can be heard across property lines.” Apparently Mr. Harding found reason to believe that they were in violation of Section 13.5-3 of the Fauquier Code–specifically Fauquier’s noise ordinance.
What makes this absolutely amazing is that it appears the magistrate chose not to read the county ordinance that he charged the Gisselquists with violating. In particular section 13.5-4, Exemptions, which exempts “Agricultural activities” from possible violations of the noise ordinance. If keeping chickens, turkeys, and/or guineas is not an “agricultural activity”, then what is?
Even the zoning ordinance for the Gisselquists’ property specifically permits them to run a “crop/livestock farm” on their property, allowing them to raise up to 70 chickens on their property if they so choose.
This citation forced the Gisselquists into court to defend their lawful actions against a zealous prosecutor, who apparently hadn’t read the law either.
With the help of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the Gisselquists argued that Fauquier’s noise ordinance was unconstitutionally vague on its face, since two other nearly identical noise ordinances had been struck down by the Virginia court system. When faced with the prospect of having the noise ordinance struck down, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office declined to further prosecute the case, leading to its dismissal on 15 May, 2013.
According to the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, Paul R. Walther, they chose to not prosecute the case further, “for good cause shown”, and noted that “this [noise] ordinance is under review for redrafting due to concerns about its constitutionality.”
It is, however, a shame that this questionably constitutional law still remains on the books. This means that honest, law abiding citizens will be unable to anticipate when they might be in violation of the noise ordinance. It means that anyone who complains can continue to haul honest men and women into court for a violation they could not foresee ahead of time.
The Gisselquists keep chickens and turkeys for the healthy meat and eggs that backyard poultry can provide. Their small poultry flock has also provided the Gisselquists with the opportunity to teach business skills to their eldest son, Jesse Gisselquist, who keeps the flock and sells any excess eggs or meat.
In a time of economic stress, teaching true entrepreneurial business skills is a true value. It is unfortunate however; that these skills also need to include the legal skills of how to defend lawful actions against a county ran as a zealous police state.
If Fauquier County was truly interested in being a business friendly, agricultural friendly community, we need to educate our local officials so that they don’t charge law abiding citizens with criminal conduct simply because they haven’t read their own laws. We also need to rewrite our noise ordinance so that it is consistent with our values, and sufficiently well-defined so as to allow someone to know whether their conduct is lawful or not.
In the meantime, the Gisselquists will continue to keep a small poultry flock, and their son will sell fresh eggs by subscription year round, or organic, pasture raised turkey’s come Thanksgiving for any and all who might be interested. Come early, though, because the supply is limited.