Virginia has become the epicenter for the debate over individual liberty and property rights. Two cases involving rural Virginia farms have been sending shock waves through the legislature, court system, and political climate. Expect these shock waves to spread to a state near you.
The first case involves Chrysalis Vineyards managed by Jennifer McCloud in Loudoun County, VA. Chrysalis was attempting to expand their operations to include a bakery, a tasting room, space for planting wheat and grapes, room for cows to graze, and a larger parking lot for customers. Two environmental groups, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Ducks Unlimited, however, claimed that the plans violated the conservation easement of the land, and sued in an attempt to stop the expansions.
In a 5-2 decision, the Virginia Supreme Court decided in Chrysalis and McCloud’s favor, saying that the operations did not violate the easement in any way.
The second case, involving Liberty Farms and owner Martha Boneta, has yet to be decided. Boneta was the subject of abuse for years by environmental groups and neighboring land owners. Inspectors would barge onto her property demanding to look inside her fridge and laundry (seriously) and even investigated claims of animal abuse that were fraudulent. A documentary was made on her ordeal, Farming in Fear, and the state enacted landmark legislation protecting property rights and rural farmers so that such abuse would never happen again. Boneta is suing the PEC and neigboring land owners for damages, and it looks like her chances are good.
Amazingly, the conservation easement that the PEC was using to inspect Boneta’s farm was determined to be incorrect, so that over all those years PEC was not acting under a lawful easement, but actually was perpetually trespassing on Boneta’s property.
Responsibly developing land so that rural farmers can provide more fresh, organic products to their communities will only provide more jobs and encourage tourism. These individuals are not attempting to bulldoze forests or fields to build a giant factory or amusement park, they are simply trying to encourage the appreciation of beautiful rural Virginia for its inhabitants and visitors. How is that not a good thing?
The legislation, court decision, and pending Boneta decision is a sign of fantastic things to come for states around the country. Expect this momentum to build, and give land owners the chance to create more jobs and encourage expanded commerce, all while respecting and being good stewards of the land.
Read more about this in Bonner Cohen’s article.