State and township officials in Pennsylvania who have been trying to disrupt an Amish farmer’s practice of allowing members of a private food-buyers club into his barn to buy his products have gone to court and lost.
And gone to court, and lost. And a third time. And even a fourth.
“If at first you don’t succeed at harassing a farmer out of business, try again … and again … and again,” explains a report from the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which works on, monitors, and reports on such fights.
“That has been the tack the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Hopewell Township have taken since 2012 against Amish farmer and FTCLDF member Chris Zook. Four times either the commonwealth or the township have brought a court action for alleged violations of either the local zoning code or the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code against Zook; each time the farmer has emerged victorious,” the report said.
FTCLDF General Counsel Gary Cox has represented Zook.
The organization explained all four actions have been prompted by officials’ fretting over Zook’s new barn. It was built, with all the proper permits, to replace one that was burned in a 2011 fire.
But the state and township both have objected to Zook’s decision to allow members of the Community Alliance for Responsible Eco-farming, of which he is a member, to buy his products in the barn.
“Barns are exempt as agricultural buildings from the Pennsylvania construction code, but both the township and the commonwealth have contended that since there is a retail store in the barn, it is actually a commercial building subject to local zoning requirements and the Commonwealth Uniform Construction Code,” the organization reported.
That would cost Zook thousands of dollars to comply.
“In the latest action, Cumberland County district court dismissed criminal charges against Zook in a July 5 hearing on the grounds that the commonwealth failed to cite any specific provision of law that Zook had violated,” the report said.
The group said after Magistrate Judge Jessica Brewbaker in March dismissed an earlier claim by the government that the commonwealth had not proven its case.
“Brewbaker held that a barn can be used for both agricultural and commercial purposes and still be under the building code exemption. After the commonwealth’s witnesses had finished testifying and without having any of the defense’s witnesses testify, Cox made a motion to dismiss the case which the judge granted.”
The attacks on the farmer have been both civil and criminal.
The first ruling came way back in 2012, when a magistrate ruled the Pennsylvania Right to Farm Act protected the right to sell their farm products without needing to apply for a conditional use permit.
No word whether the government will make a fifth attempt.