Friday, April 21, 2017

Help Us Save Whitehall Farm


Please help us save Whitehall Farm





My wife and I have gladly mortgaged our personal home twice in an attempt to grow our working educational farm business to a point where it will be self-sufficient and self-sustainable after we are gone. We decided to do this only after the state of Virginia passed 15.2-2288.6 in 2014. The letter, spirit, and intent of this law were designed to allow owners of land engaged in agriculture to monetize their land by also engaging in agritourism without having to get permission from the local zoning department. We urge anyone who might support our cause to read this, elegant in its simplicity, law.

We had hoped to get our business to a neutral cash flow by year three with our produce sales, meat sales, school trips, festivals, and other agritourism events. It became clear last year that we would be off by several years on achieving cash flow neutrality and had to have additional revenue sources. Our (unpaid) business advisor came up with the idea to have a ropes course on the farm. It is the perfect answer to our problem in that it would have several revenue streams. It has the potential to literally save the farm.

On March 7th, the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator ruled that Whitehall Farm could not operate a ropes course, also known as a challenge course, by-right as part of our agritourism business because the proposed use isn’t a natural activity and because of its effect on the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

We maintain, as does our prospective lessee’s attorneys, that this is a by-right zoning issue. For those of you not familiar with zoning terms, by-right means that we have the right to do something with our property without having to get permission from the Zoning Department.
We believe this use fits the clear legal definition of agritourism because:
It is a natural activity.
What is more natural than a kid climbing a tree? Obviously, in our litigious society you can’t have people free climbing trees. A ropes course is the only safe way for people to experience the freedom of being up in the trees of our woods. In the state of Virginia, silvaculture (the cultivation and harvesting of forest trees; forestry.), is considered an agricultural crop, exactly the same as corn and a maze in a corn crop is exactly the same as a ropes course in a forest. And…
It has no substantial impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.
Fairfax County literally just opened a ropes course in a county park. It is hard to see how the county can claim ours will have a negative effect on the citizenry having just opened one of their own. It is interesting that the county course’s lessee is a competitor of our prospective lessee.

Our options are to appeal this decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals or apply for a Special Permit. Requiring a Special Permit means that we would be asking permission to do something with our land that 15.2-2288.6 says we have the right to do. Total costs of a Special Permit can run into 6 figures, money we don’t have. We are appealing the decision to the BZA. We need the Board of Zoning Appeals to vote in favor of Whitehall Farm. If you support our position and quest to save this blue collar family farm, we need your help in the following ways:

·        By signing our e-petition to the Board of Zoning Appeals showing your support for our position. And getting everybody you know to support us.
·        By writing letters to the BZA.  Respectful, thoughtful, and compelling letters.
           Addressed to: The Clerk of the Board of Zoning Appeals
                           Re: Whitehall Farm’s appeal of March 7 Zoning Determination
·        By supporting all our social media sites.
·        By attending the appeal hearing set for the morning of June 28, 2017. We need to show there is wide community support for the farm.
·        Experts and supporters to testify at the hearing. Arborists, naturalists, therapists, educators, team building professionals, land use lawyers, etc.
·        Monetarily. Even if we win this appeal, we have lost the income from this use this year. We are not a 501c3 so donations aren’t tax deductible. In order for you to get some value from any money you might give us, we are starting a Friends of Whitehall discount program with benefits. The details of this program can be found on our Facebook page, Whitehall Farms, LLC.

We won’t make the claim that the farm will have to be sold to a developer if we don’t get this ruling overturned. But it is a certainty that the 200+ acres of Whitehall Farm will not remain a working educational farm if we can’t get additional income.
Thank you for your help.

BZA Hearing is on June 28th. Mark your calendar and come with us to show support!

Imagine



Imagine

Imagine there was a family that owned a 200 plus acre farm in overpopulated Fairfax County, Virginia — a family that wasn’t interesting in cashing in by selling to developers.

Imagine that this family didn’t want 42 McMansions putting 11 million plus gallons of septic effluent into the ground every year, while pumping out the same amount of fresh water.

Imagine that this family wanted to preserve the woods of Whitehall Farm by creating a farming and agritourism business — woods that completely mitigate the carbon footprint of 114 single family homes, including their associated transportation.

Imagine that even with expanding pastures for this family’s farming and agritourism business, there would still be well over 100 acres of untouched forest on the land, and that the farming and agritourism business would result in far fewer car trips than a subdivision would.

Imagine that this family wanted to sustainably and organically grow produce, raise their livestock ethically, educate your children on where their food comes from, provide a place for older kids to intern, preserve a place to enjoy the natural beauty of a farm less than 25 miles from the nation’s capital, and to operate their business as allowed by state law.

Imagine that this family wanted to explore the possibility of a 5 megawatt solar installation that would be elevated enough to allow the grazing of livestock on the same land — a new concept.

Imagine that this family wanted to start a veteran farmer training program on their farm.

Imagine that this family wanted to someday build a farm school for the children of local enlisted military personnel.

Imagine that this family wanted to put this land into a permanent conservation easement, establish a board of trustees, and preserve this farm into perpetuity.

Now imagine that none of this will happen.



BZA Hearing is on June 28th. Mark your calendar and come with us to show support!


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Candle Making Saturday 29th

Come to Whitehall Farm on Saturday, April 29th at 1:30 to learn the art of candle making! We will be making eco-friendly soy candles. Each student will learn how to make luxuriously scented candles to accent their home décor. All supplies are included and each student will take a candle home. $20 each. Sign up HERE


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Seeking Volunteer Educator for Programs

Farm Educator Position at Whitehall Farms in Clifton, Virginia

Whitehall Farm in Clifton, Virginia is seeking a part-time volunteer Farm Educator. Ideal candidates will have a teaching background, or environmental educational experience and a passion for teaching and working with children. The Farm Educator assists with school-aged field trips, facilitates the parent-child program for young learners, and in the future could develop the outreach program and be a facilitator for a summer farm camp.
Located in Fairfax County 10 minutes from George Mason University, the 200+ acres of Whitehall Farms, LLC offers picturesque woodlands with local wildlife, forested streams, and rolling pasture. Whitehall Farms produces a variety of high-quality farm products including fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meat, eggs, honey, and firewood.  An integral part of our farm are the field trips and parent-child educational programs offered in the spring, summer, and fall.
Field Trips are standards-based, theme-based field trips for school-aged children (pre-K to 12 grade) from local schools, scouting troops, etc. Students participate in hands-on, experiential learning in an authentic farm setting.
Parent-Child Programs are Friday mornings at 10.00 am. Our innovative parent-child program combines a hands-on farm activity with parents and their young children, and listening to a story highlighting the class subject or farm area. Parents/guardians and young children (ages preschool to 8 years) are welcome.

Topics for both Field Trips and Parent-Child Programs include:
  • Wonder of Plants (plant parts, fundamental resources of plants, planting & harvesting)
  • Soil Stories (soil components, ecosystem, composting)
  • Pollinators (diversity of pollinators, bees, role in ecosystem, adaptations)
  • Habitats (plant & animal habitats, diversity)
  • Investigating Agriculture (who are farmers, farming in VA, history, organic & sustainable growing practices and process of farm to market to table)​
  • Animals on the Farm (chickens, pigs, cows; feeding & care)
Farm Educator - Skills and Experience
  • Passionate about educating children
  • Supportive of outdoor, hands-on farm education
  • Experience coordinating programs
  • Able to lead children in farm-based activities
  • Ability to collaborate and communicate clearly
  • Flexibility as our farm grows and changes
  • Reliability and a sense of humor



Compensation
The Farm Educator is currently a volunteer position. Compensation can be negotiated depending on the situation.
Time
Friday mornings for approximately 3 hours, plus weekday field trips depending on availability.
Potential to develop our farm education and outreach programming based on your interests.

Application
Interested to apply to be the Farm Educator for Whitehall Farms? Have Questions?
Please email Anna Isserow with your resume and a short paragraph about your interests and why you could be a good fit for the Farm Educator position to anna@whitehall.farm

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until position filled.