The Story of Liberty Farm
from our friend Tom DeWeese
Martha Bonata bought 64 acres of beautiful farm land in Fauquier County seven years ago. The barn was in disrepair and the land hadn’t been well taken care of. She set out to change that, spending thousands to turn the barn into a quaint little store. She brought in over 150 rescued animals, including goats, ducks, turkeys, even an emus.
She used the store to sell items grown on the property, including tomatoes and eggs. In addition, Martha is incredibly talented in crafting decorative and useful items from her farm sources. For example, her emu’s feathers, which it drops on the ground, are turned into jewelry. She created a wooden item that contains small slits on each of its four sides. In the slits she stuffs bits of wool discarded by her sheep. The item’s purpose was to hang in the yard so birds can use the bits of wool to make their nests. Above all, Martha turned the farm into a classic organic farm of naturally grown produce.
Everything was looking great for a lady anxious to get her hands in the dirt. Oh yes, there was just one small detail brought up during the negotiation for the purchase of the property. The Piedmont Environmental Council slipped in a conservation easement on the property. This specific easement did not pay any cash to Martha nor did it provide any tax credits. All the benefits went to PEC. Martha signed the document because she had been told conservation easements were a way to protect the farm from being developed. She was for that.
But there is one major aspect of Martha’s value system that doesn’t fit the PEC profile for the perfect small farmer. She believes in private property rights. And that’s when the trouble started. Space does not allow a full description of the battles Martha has faced over her attempts to farm her land. Here is the “Cliff notes” version:
Martha does not live on the farm, she owns a home in another location. The conservation easement she signed said she could have a small 1600 square foot residence on the property. She never used the facility as a residence.
The Fauquier County planning board suddenly issued notice that Martha would be fined for selling items that were not produced on her farm, something she never actually did. And they warned that she needed another permit in order to use the facility for events.
She was immediately threatened with fines of $5,000 a day for each violation brought by the County. The evidence used against her by the county was a photo of a children’s birthday party that Martha had posted on her face book page, allegedly proving that she had rented out the barn for a party. in fact, it was a private party for personal friends. No money exchanged hands for the facility. But the battle was on.
Martha began to learn what a powerful weapon conservation easements can be in the hands of those who wanted to control her actions. The easement gave the PEC the right to occasionally inspect the property for “violations’ of the easement. Suddenly Martha was informed that PEC inspectors would visit the farm to investigate the “living quarters.” Rather than a random, occasional, or annual visit, PEC came back again and again; demanding to look into her private closets; even banning her right to video tape the inspections on her own property.
The PEC found fault with a simple water nozzle Martha had purchased to use in washing her animals. Somehow that was a violation. There is an old cemetery on the property dating back to 1832. In it are buried the families of former residents of the area and black slaves. To keep the farm animals from walking though the cemetery, Martha installed a simple fence. “Violation,” said PEC, “It damages the view shed.” On and on went the harassment over such idiotic claims. Along with it came thousands of dollars of legal expenses as Martha fought to defend herself.
Eventually, as a result of non-stop pressure and the threat of fines from the County, plus the pressure from PEC, not to mention a “coincidental” IRS audit, Martha was forced to close her little store, seriously damaging a major part of her ability to earn income from the farm.
Worse, county officials have made outrageous claims in attempts to justify their actions. They claim that Martha’s small store, and others like it on local farms, will lead to the establishment of Walmarts in rural areas. And most recently one official has made the claim on local television that her store is the pathway to junk yards and car lots.
What was her real crime? She had challenged county planning restrictions. And in doing so, she had become a threat to their authority and that of the PEC, which is the driving force behind county controls over private property.
These are the results of the implementation of Sustainable Development policy and why the American Policy Center is dedicated to stopping it. For more information about Sustainable Development, Agenda 21 and how to stop it, go to APC’s web site, www.americanpolicy.org and join the fight to end this tyranny over American citizens and your property rights.