The Lifelong Dream to Be a Farmer in Virginia

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Virginia Free Citizen’s Life on the Farm Series

Martha Boneta, who followed her lifelong dream of becoming a farmer eight years ago, became a household name throughout Virginia after Fauquier County officials threatened her with a $5,000 fine in August 2012 for hosting a child’s birthday party on her farm, Paris Barns at Liberty Farm in Paris, Va., without a permit.

She was also threatened with more fines for selling her own handmade crafts and advertising a pumpkin-carving contest.

The county’s actions against Boneta sparked outrage among citizens and Boneta’s case catapulted her into the national spotlight.  During the 2013 General Assembly session, a bill was introduced, nicknamed the “Boneta Bill,” that would have given farmers and landowners’ property rights remedies against local zoning laws.

Liberty Farm Paris Va Martha Boneta

 

The bill failed to pass, but during the 2014 General Assembly session a similar bill, Senate Bill 51, was introduced as a compromise resulting from the Boneta Bill’s failure and was signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Virginia Citizens and Small Farmers Make the Difference

Boneta said she is incredibly thankful for the Virginians, including small family farmers, who took time away from their families, work and farms to support her efforts. Her encouragement for all Virginia citizens is  to preserve and increase our freedoms by participating in the legislative process as our civic duty:

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As citizens, as Virginians, as Americans, we need to work together,” she said. “To take time away from the land to go to Richmond for legislation is a huge burden. Yet it’s our freedom to do that.

Boneta stresses the importance of the “power of one” through her advocacy for the freedoms of Virginia’s small family farmers. She says:

It takes one person with a vision, a dream, a hope, a love, a passion to inspire others and to create a movement, to create a renaissance

As a small farmer, it can be very difficult to fight for legislative support, Boneta said. However, she said farmers, who must face unpredictable challenges in their production, have a strong will to succeed.

“Farming is a profession of hope,” she said, adding that farmers have the power to apply that same hope to legislative efforts.

Local Officials Should Work on a Farm for a Day

Boneta said she wishes local officials would take the time to actually work on a farm and experience the struggles of small farmers firsthand and to witness their passion and hope for success. She says:

To walk in somebody else’s shoes is a very powerful thing, … And I encourage them (local officials) to walk in the muck boots of small family farmers and see how hard it is, how incredibly difficult it is to make ends meet and to keep the small family farm alive and, if they had that opportunity, perhaps they would be more sensitive to the needs of small producers.

What some may not know about Boneta is that she grew up as the youngest of three girls in Mount Vernon, Va., and was inspired to farm after working in her mother’s backyard kitchen gardens while growing up. She said:

I loved getting in the dirt and the miracle of planting seeds and seeing them turn into vegetables…I was determined that I wanted to be a farmer.

Boneta’s 64-acre farm offers a variety of organic vegetables, fresh and dried herbs, honey, honeybee products, eggs, handmade soaps and candles, and alpaca, llama and sheep’s wool crafts. Her farm fresh eggs come from her chickens, turkeys, ducks and emus.

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See More photos of Martha’s farm on Bailey Bayard Photography website

All of her products are organic and do not contain GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides or any other chemical additives. Besides her popular eggs and honey products, Boneta is most known for her Zen tomatoes, which she said she produces thousands of each year. Boneta’s special tomatoes are of heirloom varieties and can come in many different colors.

Health Benefits of Tomatoes: More than You Think

Boneta said most people don’t realize the health benefits of tomatoes. She said tomatoes are considered a natural astringent for the skin and in some cultures people have bathed in tomato juice. She also said you can slice a tomato in half and rub it over your skin to help cleanse it. The tomato balances the skin’s pH levels and exfoliates too, she said.

“We encourage people to think about tomatoes even beyond putting them in your body, but also for the benefits you can get holistically, by putting them on your skin,” Boneta said.

The tomatoes tie into the farm’s common theme of Zen. She says:

The whole concept that we came up with in terms of this notion of Zen, or balance of Earth, is that we really put a lot of love into everything we do, so when we grow our vegetables, we do it with love, passion and sunshine

The Beauty of Practicing a ‘Peaceable Kingdom’

Boneta’s farm has approximately 285 animals, including a wide variety of chickens, ducks,turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, cows, llamas, alpacas and emus. The farm acts as an animal sanctuary for livestock animals that need a home. She said people call her and ask her to take their animals in when they can’t take care of them anymore.

“I have a long love of animals, big and small, and I believe that we should love all of God’s creatures,” she said, as one of her emus playfully pecks at her straw hat. “I’ve very much fallen in love with having an animal sanctuary and I fell in love with that concept and very much wanted to make it a reality.”

Boneta said she saw the need to provide a home for large livestock animals that are too big to live in domestic animal sanctuaries. The animals are not killed for consumption, but Boneta does use their byproducts, such as wool, eggs, milk and honey.

“We learned in our studies that there are many domestic animal sanctuaries, but if you have a 1500-pound cow, it’s very hard to find a sanctuary,” Boneta said. “We found that we really need to have venues and environments where people could bring their animals and know that they’d be loved and cared for and not have to work for their presence and that’s what we created here.”

Boneta loves interacting with the animals on her farm, as she said she likes to sing to them in the fields. She often refers to her farm as a “peaceable kingdom.”

“None of the animals here are bought or sold, so they don’t have to worry for their life. They can just be themselves,” she said. “In practicing a peaceable kingdom it’s really quite beautiful because they have the ability to roam and be themselves and create their environments just as they would anywhere.”

The Buzz on Beekeeping

Boneta is also an avid honey producer. She encourages backyard beekeeping, especially to combat the prevalent issue of colony collapse disorder, or the mass disappearance of honeybees. Boneta said honeybees play a vital role in food production by pollinating crops.

Although the exact cause of colony collapse disorder is not currently known, Boneta said many have suggested that the collapse of colonies may be linked to the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Small Family Farms are Endangered, Citizens Must Preserve

Boneta opens her farm up to the public to encourage citizens to connect with the land and experience farming for themselves. She also notes that people are becoming more concerned with where their food comes from.

“There are so many people who want to come to the farm and connect with land,” Boneta said. “They want to connect with their food source, they want to meet their farmer, they want to see asparagus growing in the Earth, and they want their children to experience harvesting eggs, and those opportunities aren’t available as abundantly as they could be or should be.”

Small agriculture has been declining fast since industrial agriculture took over in the 1960s. Boneta hopes to inspire a renaissance of small family farmers in Virginia.

“We’re losing our small family farmers at an epic rate. The amount of small family farmers we have now in this country and in Virginia is a fraction of what it used to be,” Boneta said. “Our hope and prayer is that by bringing people and their families to the farm, we can inspire them. We need more young people to get into farming, so I think it’s vital.”

Boneta suggests families’ start “farm hopping” for groceries. She said the biggest way to support the local farms is to go there and buy their products.

“By spending some of your budget for food at your local small family farmers, that’s the ultimate way to make sure that we have more farmers and that we attract more people to the farming community,” she said.

Despite what she’s been through, Boneta is hopeful for the future of small farming in Virginia.

“It’s an exciting time, the future is bright,” Boneta said. “I’m really excited about the future here in Virginia for small family farmers.”

The Virginia Free Citizen Media Team had a wonderful time with Martha and encourages all Virginians to seek out and visit their local farms.

The Virginia Free Citizen Media Team with Martha Boneta

The Virginia Free Citizen Media Team with Martha Boneta

The Virginia Free Citizen’s media team visited Martha Boneta’s Paris Barns at Liberty Farms in Paris, Va. this month for our ongoing Life on the Farm series.

During our visit we learned about small family farmers and their challenges while interacting with Boneta’s friendly farm animals. We look forward to visiting more of Virginia’s small farms in the future.

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