Dear Commissioner Lohr,
I thank you for the opportunity to express my concerns regarding on farm activities. I have a small farm and raise livestock and seasonal vegetables. I live in a very rural area in need of independent jobs.
For the On Farm Activities Working Groups (OFAWG) to be complete, we need to begin with three bits of history, one is of the Right to Farm Act ( RTF), another is the change to RTF made in 1994, and the other is the 1967 “Wholesome” Meats Act by congress.
In the 1980’s the Right to Farm Act was pushed by both the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Farm Bureau. ALEC is made up of large corporations such as ADM, Bayer, Cargill, Pfizer, Koch Bros, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and our own Speaker of the House, Bill Howell is on its board of directors. Farm Bureau is an insurance company that mitigates risk through profits made in stocks of large corporations who utilize farms for the raw materials (taxpayer subsidized commodities) that they use.
The reason RTF was pushed was to protect the newest “technological advancements” in agricultural protein production, the “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.” These CAFOs ( aberrations of the independent family farm) are animal warehouses that create awful stench, toxic manure lagoons, toxic fumes and particulate matter that truly create physiological damage in humans (not to mention the animals themselves which we consume) Those creations were the “nuisances” to which the statute referred.
Small towns and rural neighbors of these CAFOs did not want this bizarre, inhumane, unhealthy practice in their locales. Those town managers and county supervisors had every right to bring nuisance lawsuits up, barring those aberrations from their vicinities, (please see the factory farm map).
To counter those measures and protect the big boys of warehouse protein production (mainly swine and poultry), American Farm Bureau and ALEC created and had introduced the Right to Farm Act in every state. They used the Dillon Rule effectively in VA. They had to deny counties the right to bar CAFOs in their area. And they successfully did it. They wrapped it in the American Flag of freedom and the image of the independent rugged hard working diversified family farmer.
Here let’s examine the language of what was in the code in 1994 and the proposed change in the form of the Senate Bill 513 which includes regular text which was current law, stricken text which was current law to be stricken, and italicized text which was the proposed new language for the law( yellow highlights are mine):
An Act to amend and reenact Chapter 293 of the Acts of Assembly of 1991, carried by reference in the Code of Virginia as § 3.1-22.28, and to amend and reenact § 3. 1-22.29of the Code of Virginia, relating to the right to farm.
Approved April 11, 1994
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That Chapter 293 of the Acts of Assembly of 1991, carried by reference in the Code of Virginia as § 3.1-22.28, and § 3.1-22.29 of the Code of Virginia are amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 3.1-22.28. Right to farm; restrictive ordinances.
It is the declared policy of the Commonwealth to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products. When nonagricultural land uses extend into agricultural areas, agricultural operations often become the subject of nuisance suits. As a result, agricultural operations are sometimes forced to cease operations. Many others are discouraged from making investments in farm improvements. It is the purpose of this chapter to reduce the loss to the Commonwealth of its agricultural resources by limiting In order to limit the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be deemed to be a nuisance, especially when nonagricultural land uses are initiated near existing agricultural operations, no county shall adopt any ordinance that requires that a special exception or special use permit be obtained for any production agriculture or silviculture activity in an area that is zoned as an agricultural district or classification. For the purpose of this section, “production agriculture and silviculture” means the bona fide production or harvesting of agricultural or silvicultural products but shall not include the processing of agricultural or silvicultural products or the above ground application or storage of sewage sludge. However, counties may adopt setback requirements, minimum area requirements, and other requirements that apply to land on which agriculture and silviculture activity is occurring within the locality that is zoned as an agricultural district or classification. No county, city or town shall enact zoning ordinances which would unreasonably restrict or regulate farm structures or farming and forestry practices in an agricultural district or classification unless such restrictions bear a relationship to the health, safety and general welfare of its citizens. This section shall become effective on April 1, 1995, and from and after that date all land zoned to an agricultural district or classification shall be in conformity with this section.
§ 3.1-22.29. When agricultural operations do not constitute nuisance.
A. No agricultural operation or any of its appurtenances shall be or become a nuisance, private or public, by any changed conditions in or about the locality thereof after the same has been in operation for more than one year if such operations are conducted in accordance with existing best management practices and comply with existing laws and regulations of the Commonwealth. The provisions of this section shall not apply whenever a nuisance results from the negligent or improper operation of any such agricultural operation or its appurtenances or when there has been a significant change in the operation itself.
B. For the purposes of this chapter, “agricultural operation” shall mean any operation devoted to the bona fide production for sale of crops, or animals, or fowl, including but not limited to the production for sale of fruits and vegetables of all kinds; meat, dairy, and poultry products; nuts, tobacco, nursery and floral products; and trees in such quantity and so spaced and maintained as to constitute a forest area and the production and harvest of products from silviculture activity.
C. The provisions of subsection A shall not affect or defeat the right of any person, firm, or corporation to recover damages for any injuries or damages sustained by them on account of any pollution of, or change in condition of, the waters of any stream or on the account of any overflow of lands of any such person, firm, or corporation.
D. Any and all ordinances of any unit of local government now in effect or hereafter adopted that would make the operation of any such agricultural operation or its appurtenances a nuisance or providing for abatement thereof as a nuisance in the circumstance set forth in this section are and shall be null and void; however, the provisions of this section shall not apply whenever a nuisance results from the negligent or improper operation of any such agricultural operation or any of its appurtenances or when there has been a significant change in the operation itself.
E. This section shall not be construed to invalidate any contracts heretofore made but insofar as contracts are concerned, it is only applicable to contracts and agreements to be made in the future.
In 3.1-22.28 it looks as if the problem is coming from without the farm, city people not understanding farm life. I remember it well being in an ag program at a major Ag university in the mid 80’s. That was the spin all over the media. But the real problem came from within the farm, the drastic change from animal husbandry to cold analytical animal science, and farmers not even owning the animals -just contracted to raise them in conditions a huge corporation sets which the farmer has no control. Vertically integrated contract farming is what it is called, a far cry from the independent farmer who made all the decisions on raising his own animals.
Section A of 3.1-22.29 had given people a year to complain of nuisance. After a year, oh well, the state said you may not complain. If you had bought a home near a hog warehouse you never saw, when the wind wasn’t blowing in the right direction or see its effluent contaminating your creek after a hurricane, you had no right to complain if it has been in operation for over a year. But the citizenry of the locality could still decide and define what the nuisance was, be it environmental or health concerns. The new statute gave the state the control by defining Best Management Practices (BMPs). The state was to decide what a nuisance was for the neighbors. This is top down control—not local control.
BMPs are another aberration of manure handling in massive quantities that surrounding land mass cannot absorb easily. It’s a way that the big boys of warehouse Agriculture, DEQ, VA Tech and VDACS can pollute, create government programs, and continue business as usual, giving each other jobs at the taxpayers’ expense. I think the local community should decide if a farm operation is a nuisance. Well run real farms (not animal factories) don’t smell, contaminate water systems, make people sick, or cause death by manure pit.
Section B of 3.1-22.29 looks like the definition of a farm but they changed the word to “Agricultural operation.” It does ensure the right for sale of crops, animals, meat, dairy products etc… Meat and dairy products are the processed product of the animals. But see where the new language has stricken the words “for sale” and added the language “but shall not include the processing of agricultural or silvicultural products”
Processing is turning a pumpkin into pumpkin pie, pouring milk into a jar, or turning apples into apple cider. Processing could even be carving a pumpkin. But the bill also struck the words for sale. So in 1994, we effectively financially gutted the small family farmer, by denying him the ability to process what he has raised on his own farm and selling good wholesome foods to his neighbor.
The Right to Farm Act protected only the big boys of warehouse agriculture, say Smithfield, Tyson, Purdue, Pilgrim’s Pride, Milk Producers– all vertically integrated corporations who make serfs out of American farmers and then utilize foreign labor for processing raw farm materials. Quite a few use MAS Labor, a member of Virginia Agribusiness Council, that helps bring in HB visa “guest” workers- because the farmers have been denied the ability to process and sell what they have grown on their own land. People eat three times a day. Food is big money.
We covered part of the history of RTF. Let’s see what else happened to on farm activities. Through the 1967 Wholesome Meats Act, the Federal government took control over all slaughterhouses and butcher shops in the nation. It required states have inspection programs “equal to” that of the federal regulations. That drove out small, very safe, family run butcher shops overnight. Small shops could not retrofit to give separate bathroom, office space and shower facilities to a federal inspector. The midsize shops absorbed the processing the families once held. Over the course of time and regulation even the larger ones could not hold on. Now the cost to open a family run abattoir where beef can be sold by the piece is prohibitive.
Now that we have some “backgrounders” let’s get on with the purpose of OFAWG. What activities should be allowed on farms?
First and foremost, the processing and sale of what farmers have raised on their own land should be sacrosanct. The key words are process and sell. There is already a bill at hand to be introduced for 2014 session called the Farm Freedom Act which states twenty one simple words, and will be its very own section of code. “Farmers shall have the right to process and sell what they have produced on their own land without licensure or inspection.” It is very simple and clear. One does not need an attorney to interpret it.
On farm processing is what built this nation. We now get pink slime from the large processors, and the Chinese will own Smithfield (Sept 24th is the stockholder vote, the same day as the last OFAWG meeting.) We cannot do any worse. It is time to free the farmers to do what they do best, bring good healthful foods to their neighbors. We need to rebuild our economies. It can be done by allowing farmers to sell raw milk to their neighbors, sell fresh sausage from a hog they raised themselves or sell a pumpkin pie from pumpkins they raised on their own land.
We need to get the federal government off the farm, the USDA and FDA. We need more abattoirs. The state needs to adopt its own food safety regulations, not just unthinkingly adopt Federal regulations. Even if a steer was conceived, born raised slaughtered, butchered and eaten within the confines of VA (never crossed a state line) the USDA has to control the processing and sale of the meat. In order for me to get a steak to my neighbor, it must travel 800 miles. 200 up to the USDA slaughterhouse and 200 miles back home, then approximately two weeks later, it gets picked all “gift wrapped” at another 400 miles (and people wonder why local food is expensive.) I have a state inspected slaughterhouse within 7 minutes of my home, but I cannot use it if my neighbor wants to only buy 3 pounds of burger or 2 steaks from a steer that he watched grow in my fields. In order for me to sell, I must go to a USDA inspector. It is a market manipulation to deny access by small producers.
The reason OFAWG came to be, was that the manipulation of the Dillon Rule to promote warehouse agriculture and deny local control came to a head and the limitations of the Right To Farm Act became known. I believe that local communities should decide the issues at hand for themselves, but until we repeal the RTF or Dillon Rule, we need to make major changes to VA code to rebuild our economy and allow freedom of food choice. The Farm Freedom Act, the Food Freedom Act and the Farm Rights Protection Act are steps in the right direction. The Farm Freedom Act allows farmers to process and sell, the Food Freedom Act allows neighbor to neighbor food sales, and the Farm Rights Protection Act prevents counties from selective enforcement of zoning laws.
Tall Trees Farm