Farmers shouldn't need a special permit to hold a field day

If you’ve ever attended a farm tour, farm field day or other harvest event at an Iowa farm, you be concerned by the action alert I received yesterday from the Iowa City-based non-profit Local Foods Connection.

Last fall the Johnson County Planning and Zoning board determined that Susan Jutz would need a “special event” permit if she wanted to hold a harvest celebration at her farm in Solon. She canceled the event because of the expense of obtaining a special event permit and because she did not want to set a precedent that farm tours and celebrations went beyond “accepted agricultural practices.”

I’ve posted the action alert after the jump. Jutz is appealing the board’s ruling next week. If you live in Johnson County, please consider contacting the county officials listed below. Farms all over the country organize tours and harvest parties.  

ZONING APPEALS HEARING NEXT WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18

5:30 PM  Johnson County Administration Building   Iowa City

As many of you know, last fall I canceled my annual farm tour and harvest event activities at my farm because Johnson County Planning and Zoning decided my ‘harvest event’ was not an acceptable use of my land as a farmer and therefore required me to have a ‘special event’ permit.

Rick Dvorak, the Planning and Zoning administrator in a letter sent to me on September 15, 2008, said, “it is my opinion that you would need a Conditional Use Permit for any, and all farm tours, and your harvest activities party… It appears that you have moved beyond normal agricultural uses into providing some kind of education on site, tourist tours, […] and special events.”  (The cost: $250 per event, a lengthy and complicated application process and the possibility of being required to dust proof my gravel road at a possible cost of $2000.)

I am appealing Planning and Zoning’s decision. The Johnson County Farm Bureau in a letter of support said, “We believe Susan Jutz is engaged in agriculture and should qualify for the same protection/ preservation as traditional farms. In this instance, the farm tours and educational events including her fall harvest celebration should not require a special use permit because they are accessory uses of the land to ensure farm viability for the specialty crops raised on her farm.”

I decided NOT to apply for a permit, as I believe I would be setting a precedent that would put all farmers who wish to hold educational/ celebratory/ agritourism events on their farm in a difficult if not impossible situation. On farm events like this are essential to promoting, celebrating and educating farmers and consumers about agriculture. There are many similar on- farm events held on farms across the state and the nation. I have yet to speak with anyone who has been required to have a permit for one of these events. This issue has the potential to affect farmers and consumers all over Iowa.

Well-respected agriculture groups in the state, like the Iowa Department of Agriculture, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Practical Farmers of Iowa all rely on farm tours and field days as part of the “accepted agricultural practices” that build and sustain agriculture in the state. I believe these activities should be considered “accepted agricultural practices,” rather than, as Planning and Zoning decided, practices that are somehow “beyond normal agricultural uses.”

Our Johnson County officials need to stand behind their expressed commitment to “preserve agricultural resources” and “protect agricultural land from encroachment of urban land uses” (as established in Chapter 8:2 of the Johnson County Unified Development Ordinance, “Protecting Agricultural Operations”). Field days, farm tours, volunteer workdays and other on-farm events invite farmers to share agricultural knowledge with each other and invite urban residents to learn more about farming in their extended communities, thereby encouraging their desire to support, value, and protect agricultural land.

I will be defending my appeal on Wed, March 18 at 5:30 pm in Iowa City at the Johnson County Administration Bldg in the boardroom on the 2nd floor. All of the documents that led up to this appeal are available on my website at www.zjfarms.com. Follow the “Zoning Appeal Information” link to access all 6 documents including letters from Rick Dvorak and the Johnson County Farm Bureau letter of support.

I need your help!  Please attend this meeting AND send letters of support!  

Please send letters to: (Email me a copy as well, localharvestcsa@southslope.net in case Planning and Zoning forgets to bring your letters/emails to the hearing.  Thanks)

1) Rick Dvorak rdvorak@co.johnson.ia.us

       Planning & Zoning, 913 S. Dubuque St. Suite 204, Iowa City 52240

2)Johnson County Board of Supervisors

               Terrence Neuzil     tneuzil@co.johnson.ia.us

               Larry Meyers          lmeyers@co.johnson.ia.us

               Sally Stutsman         sstutsma@co.johnson.ia.us

               Rod Sullivan            rsullivan@co.johnson.ia.us

               Pat Harney              pharney@co.johnson.ia.us            

Please share this information with your colleagues, family and friends.  Call me if you have questions 319 929-5032.

Thank you,

Susan Jutz

Local Harvest CSA

ZJ Farm www.zjfarms.com

  • Accepted land use?

    Let me get this straight.  Johnson County has consistently issued building permits for planting McMansions on farmland all over the friggin’ county, but have the nerve to say that a farm tour on an actual ag site is “beyond normal agricultural uses”?

    Kiss my ass.  

  • Ok, Ok, so I've calmed down a little...

    I spent a good deal of time in and around Solon growing up, and as an adult. My aunt’s husband was raised there, and they have lived there for over forty years.

    In my lifetime I have seen the Johnson Co. Board of Supervisors issue permit after permit to developers who have destroyed thousands of acres of fantastic Iowa farmland around Solon simply to house yuppies from Iowa City.

    My uncle’s family still has a farm that touches Corps of Engineers land and is adjacent to Coralville Lake.  They have refused to sell despite much pressure, and the neighbors constantly complain about the odor of manure from the herd of pasture fed beef that family maintains.

    You really pushed a button with me here, dmd.  I lived and worked in IC for a decade, and have seen what I perceive to be a constant ersosion of ag rights by “well meaning” liberals who are only concerned about the environmental impact of farming. There is never any expressed concern about property values, or any of that of course.

    • IC Libs love local foods

      I know exactly what you mean about the McMansions west of Solon, but IC liberals are not behind this permit.  Ms. Jutz has dozens of CSA members in Iowa City, and we are contacting the Board of Supervisors.  In addition, there are thousands of people who belong to the Coop, or shop at the farmer’s market.

      On a purely technical note, I don’t understand the justification for the permit.  Her farm tours and barn dance are marketing events that are directly related to her agricultural production.  I was happy to see that the Farm Bureau supported her position.

      BTW Elton, does your family supply their grass-fed beef to the New Pioneer Coop?  If so, then I have probably eaten it.

      • I dunno if New Pi buys any or not...

        I think some goes to a local locker for processing, some just gets sold on the hoof.

        I know there are a lot of decent folks in IC, many of whom are liberal.

        Many of the folks who live in those McMansions are pretty liberal on the face of it.

        In fact, many fairly close friends of mine are liberals.

        I just wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.

  • Good News! Ms Jutz won her appeal

    According to the IC Press-Citizen, the vote was 5-0.

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