Farmer won't need special permit for harvest celebration

I recently wrote about a Johnson County farmer’s appeal against a Planning and Zoning board ruling requiring her to obtain a special permit to hold a harvest celebration at her farm.

Last night the Johnson County Board of Adjustment granted Susan Jutz’s appeal on a 5-0 vote. The non-profit organization Local Foods Connection passed along the good news in an e-mail alert I’ve posted after the jump. (Thanks also to Bleeding Heartland user corncam for the tip in the comments to my other diary.)

I was pleased to read that Jutz had so much support from the community as well as prominent figures including Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey.

“Actually, when I read that phrase, that ‘Susan believes that everything she does on her farm is ag-related,’ I thought about that for a minute and I was just thinking, well, that can’t possibly be true.  But the more I thought about it, I think it really is true – that if any of the side effects of anything she does serves to get the word out and reach any of her customers or potential customers, that’s good enough for me.  It’s ag-related.”

–Dave Parsons, Johnson County Board of Adjustment

The vote is in!

We are thrilled to announce that on March 18, 2009, in front of a standing room only crowd, the Johnson County Board of Adjustment voted in favor of Susan Jutz, granting her appeal by a vote of five to none.  We need to extend a hearty thank you to the overwhelming number of people who took the time to talk to colleagues, write letters, attend the public hearing, and share their heartfelt stories with the Board.  We were overwhelmed by the turnout.  We received more than 80 letters of support including letters from Bill Northey, Secretary of Ag, Ray Hansen, ISU Value Added Program Director, the Johnson County Farm Bureau Board, Chris Petersen, Iowa Farmers Union and Joel Morton, Farm Aid.  Your voices matter, you helped tell our story and clearly had an impact on the Board of Adjustment.  

This ruling overturns Johnson County Planning and Zoning’s determination that Susan would need to apply for 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.” Susan appealed to the County Board of Adjustment on the grounds that Planning and Zoning’s decision was a misinterpretation of the code – that ZJ Farm’s field days, farm tours, and other activities, including the annual harvest event, are consistent with the agricultural uses and activities protected in the Johnson County Unified Development Ordinance.  The County Board of Adjustment voted in favor of that appeal.

This ruling is a major victory for local foods in the County and the State and a validation of diverse forms of farming and agriculture, including small-scale, diversified farming.  With this ruling, Johnson County has lifted a huge burden from the shoulders of farmers and made a public commitment to local food.

But while this decision is, indeed, a step in the right direction, let’s continue to work on steps to support local food and food security throughout the County.

Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm.  “Now let’s begin the new season!”

Thank you,

Susan Jutz

Local Harvest CSA/ZJ Farms

“We recognize that farmers like Susan take great risks to produce a marketable crop. It is their willingness to take on these risks and to work long hard hours that result in not only the production of food but in on-farm educational, recreational even celebratory opportunities for all of us. Their work provides value to their family, neighbors and land; strengthens our communities and contributes to economic development. It is these on-farm activities that showcase some of our state’s greatest treasures; the Iowa farm, productive land and hard working Iowans. Iowa farmers are our best ambassadors for making that link between the farm and the community… I would strongly encourage your office to work with Susan and other Iowa farmers by removing barriers such as the one that the Conditional Use Permit would impose upon her and the development of farm-to-community networks that state legislators, state agencies, universities and other organizations have been working to achieve.”

Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

“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.”

Russell Meade, President, Johnson County Farm Bureau

“It’s my understanding that Johnson County Planning and Zoning has made an initial determination that a local farmer, Susan Jutz, is engaged in doing something other than ‘normal’ agriculture when she seeks to court the market for her agricultural produce and to offer opportunities for other farmers to learn from her farming experiences… These events you’ve heard of that bring people to her farm are not profit making events in themselves but are entirely and only related to her agricultural enterprise which is the source of her livelihood.”

Larry Kallem, Co-founder, Practical Farmers of Iowa

“Farms and farm organizations throughout Iowa and the nation depend on offering farm tours, field days, and other related events to engage with the public, maintain business ties, and build popular support for investing in locally-based sustainable agriculture.  The idea that ZJ Farm would need a ‘special use permit’ for its annual activities runs directly counter to good sense, good health, and good business for the county.”

Joel Morton, FARM AID

“Agritourism is defined as the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy, be educated or be involved in activities… Based on USDA estimates, about 23,350 U.S. farms earned income from agritourism in 2007 and had $566 million in sales. This income and sales translates to jobs, dollars spent in rural communities and new economic development in Iowa’s rural areas… We believe this industry to be a vital new avenue to bring education on agriculture to Iowans and to have the potential to bring new revenue streams to Iowa farmers.”

Ray Hansen, Program Director, Value Added Agriculture Program, Iowa State University Extension

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  • Urban-rural split

    The gap between farmers and cityfolk is obviously getting wider if P & Z thinks a farm field day is not basic agriculture.  Susan may provide food and music, but this is not Woodstock.