A Bucks County farmer is pushing for a state law that would prevent local governments from outlawing agritourism.
Caleb Torrice has spent more than two years and about $75,000 fighting Hilltown Township after the municipality cited his Tabora Farm and Orchard for zoning violations.
“It started with a neighbor complaint” about traffic and noise, Torrice said.
The farm, which produces tree fruit and blueberries, already had some agritourism enterprises when Torrice and his wife bought it in 2008. They have expanded those ventures.
Under a recent compromise with the township, the Torrices will be allowed to continue agritainment operations with a direct agricultural connection. That will knock out about half of their 25 events.
Torrice said he has made these concessions even as several nearby townships, and the states surrounding Pennsylvania, expand protections for agritourism.
“I can go 6 miles down the road and do whatever I want,” he said.
Fed up with his experience, Torrice ran for supervisor and was elected in November.
More importantly, he got his local representative, Todd Polinchock, to introduce a bill in December that would block local ordinances that prohibit agritourism activities.
Under the bill, H.B. 2093, municipalities could still regulate the size and setbacks of farm buildings, and parking and access points.
“We must make sure our Pennsylvania farm families are treated fairly and can earn enough to support our agricultural needs, as well as the needs of their families,” Polinchock said.
The proposal comes as state farm organizations are making agritourism regulations a top lobbying focus for the year.
One high-priority bill would limit liability for agritourism businesses. The change would reduce the risk of lawsuits and make the businesses easier to insure.
The protection would not apply if the farm disregards safety precautions. Twenty states have similar laws.
Another bill would allow barns to be used as event venues without the installation of costly sprinkler systems.
In committee, both bills have gotten strong support from Republicans but have faced some opposition from Democrats.
The Pennsylvania State Grange supports the Polinchock agritourism bill, though Vince Phillips, a lobbyist for the group, said the bill may need some clarification on parking restrictions.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau does not have an official stance on Polinchock’s bill, but “we are in favor of reducing obstacles that make it more difficult for farm families to engage in agritourism activities,” spokesman Mark O’Neill said.