Monday, January 27, 2014

Should farm-to-plate dinners be permitted in exclusive farm zones?

As some of you know, my clinic is working with a rural county on an agritourism ordinance, which has me and my students delving deeply into ag law and food law.  One recent case out of Oregon seems to me a great example of how the new interest in food's origins--and being close to those origins--is colliding with traditional notions of rural ag uses inherent in zoning requirements.  

Take, for instance, the December, 2013 case of Greenfield v. Multnomah County, in which the Oregon Court of Appeals had to decide whether farm-to-plate dinners were permissible in the state's exclusive farm use zones.  The farm sought to offer “[f]ee-based farm-to-plate dinner[s], limited to a maximum number of 150 guests and limited to 45 events per year.”  The question was whether such uses were contemplated in Oregon's state zoning statute for exclusive farm zones, which limits non-agricultural uses but permits "farm stands."  After a fair degree of statutory interpretation I won't belabor, the court concluded that, indeed, the lower Land Use Board of Appeals had erred in finding that "outdoor farm-to-plate dinners are not within the scope of the statute's allowance of 'fee-based activity to promote the sale of farm crops or livestock sold at the farm stand.'"  The decision is here.

Independent of the court's holding, the fact that courts are now being asked to decide what type of use a farm-to-plate dinner is illustrates the rising tide of interest in getting back to the farm, but preferably with a glass of viognier in hand.  Ag lands adjacent to urban areas will, I believe, be facing a rising tide of such disputes in the coming years and should consider revising ag zoning districts to accommodate this growing interest in what's doing down on the farm.

Finally, since I know you're thinking about it, let's just get it out there that this case does recall this episode of Portlandia:


And while you're on YouTube, let's not leave Idaho out of the fun.  This hilarious new video from the Idaho Wine Commission provides one of the best chuckles I've had in awhile.


Stephen R. Miller

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