When Farm Bureau member Madge Eicher went to a Fauquier County Farm Bureau meeting to announce that she is terminating her Farm Bureau policy over its opposition to the Boneta Bill, a special, surprise guest from Richmond was there ready with the insider-Richmond version of Virginia Farm Bureau’s talking points.
The Boneta Bill would have clarified protections of commerce in which farmers in Fauquier County and across the state engage. It expressly protected constitutional rights, and provided reasonable and fair remedies for when counties violated the law. It was designed to prevent county discrimination against farmers.
Martha Moore, the Director of Government Relations for Virginia Farm Bureau, told Ms. Eicher and me that the Boneta Bill would have “unintended consequences.” That was the meaningless, nebulous line used to scare people in Richmond into opposition to the bill. To this day it has never been explained.
Ms. Moore also said that the Boneta Bill would interfere with land-use planning. That is demonstrably not true since the Boneta Bill merely clarified equal protection of the types of commerce already engaged in by farmers in Fauquier County and across the state. The Boneta Bill would not interfere with land use or the ability of counties to zone agricultural. It would have prevented counties from interfering with farmers’ rights.
Ms. Moore also claimed that Boneta Bill proponents told Farm Bureau lobbyist Trey Davis that they would not address Farm Bureau’s concerns.
The facts, however, show just the opposite, which is that Farm Bureau avoided addressing the concerns of Boneta Bill supporters. In fact, Farm Bureau rather ungraciously ducked dealing with us, and tried to manipulate the process the Richmond insider way.
Below are the entire texts of emails proving this claim by Ms. Moore is fantasy.
In fact, I have issued a challenge to Farm Bureau to a public debate about the Boneta Bill, which is now extended to Ms. Moore. Let’s see if Farm Bureau continues to duck, and relies on the nebulous, false opposition that was carried on in the dark recesses of Richmond rather than out in the sunlight.
Here are some highlights from the emails to Trey Davis of Farm Bureau:
“You said you would prepare some written suggestions for the Boneta Bill, hopefully tomorrow, and I look forward to seeing those. It should be the goal of everyone for Martha to give credit to Farm Bureau after enactment of the Boneta Bill. Digesting the meeting, I’m still concerned that Farm Bureau isn’t protecting small farmers, but I hope that your written suggestions will cure my perception.”
“All these items are consistent with farm life, except, it seems, to Farm Bureau. Why does Farm Bureau wish to limit farm life and farm commerce?”
“I look forward to working with you towards these ends.”
“Monday you told Martha, Eric and me that you’d have in writing Farm Bureau’s concerns about HB 1430, but you never fulfilled on you word.”
“I am disappointed that you did not fulfill your word about getting Farm Bureau’s objections to us so that we could address them with an eye towards reasonable changes to the bill. Ducking doesn’t improve our confidence in Farm Bureau.”
“P.S. If the bill is withdrawn, I nevertheless offer to debate publicly any representative of the Farm Bureau on the bill so that we may begin preparations for next year. Let’s get this process out into the open.”
“No small farmer or county will tolerate Richmond dictating agricultural zoning. Farmers don’t have time to negotiate their God-given rights with Richmond bureaucrats.”
“Boneta Bill supporters have made concessions, and Farm Bureau can say it modified the bill. Everyone wins.”
“The Boneta Bill is about protecting rights of farmers. Again, being candid, VFBF clearly isn’t on board with that concept.”
It is now clearer why farmers are leaving Farm Bureau. Full text of emails follow.
You said you would prepare some written suggestions for the Boneta Bill, hopefully tomorrow, and I look forward to seeing those.
It should be the goal of everyone for Martha to give credit to Farm Bureau after enactment of the Boneta Bill.
Digesting the meeting, I’m still concerned that Farm Bureau isn’t protecting small farmers, but I hope that your written suggestions will cure my perception. You seek to remove provisions of the Boneta Bill, but you offered nothing in exchange or to substitute for those valuable protections that you seek to remove.
The Right to Farm Act is flawed in many ways, and does little to protect actual rights of farmers. Production farming is of little value if commerce is not protected. Farming is not a hobby.
I am baffled by your objection to the incidental commerce of art, literature and artifacts. It is not up to counties, the Commonwealth, and certainly not Farm Bureau to define down what small farmers may do. The spouses and neighbors of farmers should be free to sell their paintings or photography from farms. Farms should be free to sell farm literature, which benefits the entire farming community. You wish to relegate the sale of farm artifacts to expensive antique stores, but farmers have always sold artifacts.
All these items are consistent with farm life, except, it seems, to Farm Bureau. Why does Farm Bureau wish to limit farm life and farm commerce?
Farm Bureau needs to fully back the remedies in the Boneta Bill. Counties have litigation liability insurance; farmers do not. County officials won’t go out of pocket on legal fees when they violate farmers’ rights; farmers do. Unless Farm Bureau makes strong cause for the remedies provisions, it will be seen as betraying small farmers in favor of bureaucrats who bully farmers.
I’d rather Martha say that she was pleased with Farm Bureau’s efforts than to see the continued bleeding of its credibility and membership. This would require Farm Bureau’s full and vocal support of the Boneta Bill. Perhaps some minor edits could be made, but I heard nothing convincing today.
Farm Bureau needs to overcome the damage that it has done to the bill, and to restore its credibility with small farmers.
I look forward to working with you towards these ends.
Monday you told Martha, Eric and me that you’d have in writing Farm Bureau’s concerns about HB 1430, but you never fulfilled on you word.
Martha is prepared to ask Delegate Lingamfelter to withdraw the bill rather than proceed with a bad bill that hurts small farmers. There are a number of provisions that Farm Bureau apparently wants added or removed from the bill that would make it a terrible bill, and that would actually hurt small farmers.
If the bill were to be withdrawn, it will be done so with the accurate description issued by Martha and other supporters of HB 1430 that the changes desired by Farm Bureau would have hurt small farmers, and that it was better at this time that no bill proceed (as opposed to a terrible, even counterproductive bill).
There is already a movement by small farmers to withdraw from Farm Bureau, and to create another entity that truly represents the interests of small farmers. If Martha were to lay blame for the demise of the Boneta Bill at the feet of Farm Bureau, which would be accurate, those movements will be accelerated and increased in size. If Farm Bureau believes its justifications are principled, then those responses by small farmers would simply be natural consequences of Farm Bureau’s principles.
I’m not sure that you understand the breadth and scope of support for the Boneta Bill outside the Richmond cocoon, nor do I believe that you understand the anger, resentment and betrayal that small farmers would feel resulting from Farm Bureau’s role in the Boneta Bill’s demise.
I am disappointed that you did not fulfill your word about getting Farm Bureau’s objections to us so that we could address them with an eye towards reasonable changes to the bill. Ducking doesn’t improve our confidence in Farm Bureau.
Martha and others will begin speaking publicly starting Sunday. I therefore suggest that a final bill that Farm Bureau supports publicly and privately be ready by no later than noon Saturday.
P.S. If the bill is withdrawn, I nevertheless offer to debate publicly any representative of the Farm Bureau on the bill so that we may begin preparations for next year. Let’s get this process out into the open.
Time is short, so I’ll be brief.
I’ve marked up the most recent draft of a modified HB 1430, attached.
No small farmer or county will tolerate Richmond dictating agricultural zoning. Farmers don’t have time to negotiate their God-given rights with Richmond bureaucrats.
Small farmers need reasonable remedies. We’ve taken out remedies against county officials, but kept them for counties. Counties have litigation liability insurance. This should be a no-brainer for Farm Bureau especially since you can say that you resisted attempts to have an ordinance imposed on counties by the state.
Boneta Bill supporters have made concessions, and Farm Bureau can that say it modified the bill. Everyone wins.
There’s a press release being loaded in the event that Farm Bureau does not back this version.
Thanks for getting these to me, even if late.
I’ll be candid. Let me offer that you rethink or withdraw your comments.
You state, “VFBF members oppose opening this Code section.” VFBF members do not have some form of proprietary control or ownership over any part of the Virginia Code. The notion is, shall I say, peculiar.
You state, “By altering some of the language in the definitions, it could override some of the local ordinances that localities have adopted in their promotion of agriculture,” yet you then state, “I think the model ordinance [to be created by Richmond] is extremely beneficial and will give all the stakeholders some time to come up with the best guidelines where it is not one size-fits-all.” In one sentence you seem to want to protect local ordinances, in the next, you want them decided by Richmond.
Also, you seem trained in this use of the term “stakeholders.” The Virginia Code and the Constitution aren’t written to protect stakeholders. The Boneta Bill is written for citizens. They don’t need to belong to some club.
You state, “The rest of the language from 17-19 is still dangerous because of the “other items” that are related to such agricultural operation. By opening that door, I think it would allow misuse by those on agricultural land who want to engage in non-legitimate operations.” What do you mean by “dangerous” and “non-legitimate operations?” You’re a sharp guy, but what qualifies you to make those judgments for farmers? See Thomas Jefferson quote below.
The Boneta Bill is about protecting rights of farmers. Again, being candid, VFBF clearly isn’t on board with that concept, which is why I urge you to rethink your positions.
“[t]he way to have a good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to do . . . . It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself . . . that all will be done for the best . . . .