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Farming lite

On Wednesday, we took a little exception to Fauquier/Prince William Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter's notion that we need his "Boneta Bill" to protect farmers' right to earn a living in Virginia. We're not quite through with what we think is a misguided effort.

Mr. Lingamfelter continues to believe, apparently, that the good folks in Richmond know a whole lot more about how to run Fauquier County than those of us who live here. Why else come down on the wrong side of Alternative Onsite Sewage Systems, tying communities' hands when it comes to regulating those systems, and, at the same time, opening up every bit of ground in Virginia to development, no matter how unsuited that ground may be.

In other legislation he was mulling last year, Mr. Lingamfelter huffed and puffed about the untrustworthiness of Prince William County supervisors when it came to handling their discretionary funds, and threatened to introduce a bill banning such funds altogether.

Now this.

We remain convinced that Virginia farmers have plenty of protections already. They don't need any codification of "rights" to open mini-malls on farmland.

Yes, we exaggerate. The point remains.

Mr. Lingamfelter is suggesting that farm operations should be redefined to include the on-site sale of art, literature, artifacts, furniture, food, beverages and on and on. It would be easier, we believe, for the bill to list the things farmers are prohibited from selling.

"This is about permitting people that are zoned agriculture to do agriculture," Lingamfelter said, even if that agriculture sounds suspiciously like things for which we have always required commercial zoning.

The Boneta situation and a five-year battle over the regulation of farm wineries in Fauquier County has stirred up a lot of discussion, much of which, we believe, comes down to this: Farmers and vintners say they can't make it without doing some other things that they can call farming, but which we believe stretches the definition beyond ready recognition.

The argument goes on to suggest an either/or conundrum: Either we open farming to include agritourism and agritainment, or all of this open farmland will fall to development.

Never mind that all this farming lite is development in its own right.

They have convinced enough folks of the validity of that argument that now we have legislators in Richmond who want to codify faux farming activities as inviolate rights.

There is an increasing number of folks who believe that the threat of residential development doesn't withstand careful scrutiny anymore, that, in fact, development pressure on open farmland 40 and 50 miles from where all the jobs and amenities are located is practically nonexistent in a post-recession world that relies on increasingly fragile energy partners.

It is worth asking: How many homes have been built in any of the Fauquier County developments approved within the last five years?

Mr. Lingamfelter is couching his bill as strengthening protections for farmers and farming. What, in fact, he is doing is weakening the rights and protections of all the rest of us who aren't farmers.

Let there be no mistake: We like farmers, we have the utmost respect for what they do. It is hard work, it is noble work, and, anyway, we like to eat.

Where we part company with Mr. Lingamfelter and some of his supporters is in their apparent belief that if a farmer can't turn sufficient profit, there must be something wrong with the rules, not something askew with that particular farmer's business plan.

There are a lot of other businesses which would like to enjoy that same solicitude.


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