About 9 years ago our family decided we wanted to regularly get fresh diary milk from a small farmer.

We live in an HOA and aren’t allowed to have large animals, so we decided to take advantage of a herd sharing program by buying in to a beautiful farm called Avery’s Branch Farm.  The farmers, the Alexander family, maintain the herd on behalf of people like me who live in a place where we cannot do it for ourselves, and we share in the food and expenses.

We have enjoyed this mutually beneficial relationship as our farm prospered and our own family grew.  In the first few years, we actually drove 4 hours per week to pick up our milk and other foods.  Our farm family ties are deep and longstanding.

We were devastated to find out two bills that seek to break up our farm family (HB 825 and SB 962).  The bills are a heartbreaking betrayal, burdening Virginia’s herd share farmers with unnecessary labeling on food we already own, and paperwork requirements, from which the result of error subjects the farmer to untold legal bills, daily compounding fines, unannounced search and seizures, criminal charges, potential jail time and, obviously, the risk of bankrupting the farms themselves.

I do not label tomatoes and produce I grow, nor should my farm be forced to label milk consumed only by us, the owners of that milk.  These bills require farmers to direct careful attention to paperwork and jump through bureaucratic hoops rather than focus on the herd and farming.

Equally ridiculous is the cost to the Virginia taxpayer: Impact Statement estimates hiring state employees and oversight cost $235,000+ per year — an absurd waste.

These bills have shaken faith in what I believed was liberty-loving representation and deep respect for the Virginia small farmer.  For decades Virginians have peacefully enjoyed herd sharing and growing local farms together.  Our rights as Virginians to support friends and neighbors by sharing in their farms should be left untouched. Growing and eating my farm’s food is my sacred right.

I am deeply disturbed to see this right put in jeopardy.  Both bills should be pulled from consideration.

I have to ask myself, who is behind this?  Who would benefit?  And how could that benefit ever come close to the downside of imperiling these farmers and families who work on shoestring budgets and by the grace of God give HOA-dwellers like me the chance to own wholesome food and be a part of a farming family?  It is all very suspect.

It is shameful to see herd sharing under attack in the Commonwealth of Virginia, of all places.  While these bills are set to impact only small dairy farm owners at this time, these bills are the first step toward interfering with private relationships of citizens to enjoy their private property and the fruits of it with their own family, and a gateway bill to interfering with Virginia’s farmer markets we love to frequent.

Truly, there are no people I know who work harder than these farmers: they get no holidays, no snow days, no sick days.  They feed the herd every single day, and they help feed my family every week.  So, while the issues in HB 825 and SB 962 may not impact you personally today, I hope that you do consider attempts to interference with this sacred right offensive and stand together with us in the herd share community in strong opposition to these bills.

DeLois Stallman is a shareowner in a herd sharing program with Avery’s Branch Farms in Amelia County, Virginia.