Sunday, September 30, 2007

Up Against the Cookie Cutter

Government over-regulation is certainly in the eye of the beholder. I remember a few years ago when a fast-food joint tried to make a constitutional case (even holding "Pro-Freedom" rallies!) out of the fact that Albemarle County told them they had to replace their large advertising banner with a smaller one. I tried my best to muster some sympathy for the business owner in question, but the regulations in that case made a lot of sense to me (can anyone truly claim that what suburbia needs is BIGGER and LOUDER roadside advertising?) and the fast-food place was clearly in violation of those regulations.

I suppose the Libertarians would say that the reason we need to rally for the rights of national fast-food chains is that emboldened government regulators will come after the rest of us next. And when you hear about cases like the Henrico County couple who are facing a big fine for having a bathtub planter in their backyard (as featured in today's Daily Progress), you do have wonder if there's some logic to their argument. (I loved the wife's quote from that article: "Why do you have to have a cookie-cutter backyard? We're not cookie-cutter people." Classic.)

In my mind, however, there's a big difference between issuing a notice of violations to a roast beef chain over unauthorized signage and, say, conducting an armed raid on a small family farm for incorrect labeling of products. Few of us know all the facts behind the situation with Double H Farm, but they are well-regarded vendors at our City Market and the apparent heavy-handedness with which they were treated this past week is troubling. And when you compare it to the way that national food producers are treated for much graver lapses (as Harry Landers has pointed out), it does bring up some serious questions about the scales of justice in our country.

For info. on donating to a defense fund for the owners of Double H Farm, click here.


The Road Runner said...

Wow. Getting arrested over labels does seem rather extreme.

I know in California, the label "organic" must go through a very extensive certification process, which lends to the increased consumer costs of organic food at the grocery store.

On the other hand, the very polarized views of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) as sold for food has drawn similar excruciating labeling bureaucracy.

Until these farmers finally found a way to meet the "organic" certification process, they could have side-stepped the process by labeling their food as raised in the "organic tradition," including a disclaimer that it's not officially certified "organic."

While I agree that the arrests (and manner of the arrests) were overkill and disproportionate to the violation, certainly there are ways to work around some of these processes.

But what's up with the watermelon? Is there some sort of license these folks have to acquire just to sell watermelon?

(I understand that since bread is "baked" it may require a commercial grade kitchen and inspections in order to sell it publicly.)

It seems to me to be a split case of the farmers not wanting to assume the costs of doing business while at the same time enforcement agencies are foaming at the mouth trying to get these folks to comply. After all, they admit to having a year to get their act together!

Lonnie said...

Two comments... First, while I think proper labeling is important so that consumers can make informed decisions about what they buy, I think most people agree that the treatment of Double H farms was really over the top. In fact, it was not unlike the treatment of the Casons for not having a digital scale.

Second, speaking of yards and regulation, one of my big campaigns for some years now in Charlottesville is to reform the weed ordinance. Currently it is height-based with a list of plants that are exluded as "ornamentals". I've wanted the city to change this in two major ways:

1) We should exempt anyone willing to use a management plan to control noxious weeds and a high percentage of native plants. (See "The Dell" at UVa as an example of an effective use of native plants and natural landscaping in Charlottesville.)

2) Instead of keeping a list of plants excluded from the ordinance, we list noxious and invasive species that we classify as weeds that as listed by the Virginia Department on Natural Heritage and other Government sources. This will allow us to target weeds that are actually a threat to environmental health or safety, while preventing absentee landlords from simply "letting things go".

Last I heard from Kristel, the new policy was still sitting on the desk of the City Attourney. I'd love to be able to finally be able to announce this policy, and start holding information sessions for the public on natural landscaping.