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‘Subsistence farming’ definition to be called back by Nye County Commission

Over the past year, the subject of growing hemp on smaller residential lots in the Pahrump Valley has been at the forefront of the minds of many and now, it has spiraled into a situation in which the Nye County Commission is planning to pull back definitions that were recently approved in an attempt to curb hemp cultivation.

The reason? Those new definitions effectively outlaw growing any crops for sale on suburban estates and rural estates 1 and 2 zoned properties, which essentially bars those landowners from growing for farmers market or small-scale sales.

The situation started late last year, when the Nye County Commission considered a bill that would limit crops on the aforementioned zoned lots, including hemp and, as originally proposed, vegetables and fruits as well.

Responding to a swell of concern from area growers who regularly sell their crops on a small scale, the Nye County Commission eventually adjusted the bill, passing it in December 2019 with the intention of protecting small-scale growers. The protection was to come from the use of the terms “subsistence farming” and “commercial farming.”

As proposed during the commission’s December 2019 meeting, the definition of “subsistence farming” was to be, “The activity of growing crops or raising livestock for food for household use but not to provide a sole source of income. Income provided by subsistence farming not to exceed $20,000 per year.”

“Commercial farming” was proposed to be defined as producing crops for a sole source of profit exceeding $20,000.

Both of those proposals were not made official at the Dec. 19 meeting however, as such a changes required another bill to amend the definitions section of the related county code, title 17.

By the time the commission was set to address the bill to officially add those definitions to the code, they had undergone some changes.

Subsistence farming no longer included a reference to a $20,000 limit and commercial farming had changed to state “…growing crops or raising livestock with the intent of making a profit.”

When the item was opened for discussion on Feb. 19, those definition were altered once again.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman immediately jumped in to ask whether Nye County Planning Director Brett Waggoner had incorporated the adjustments she had suggested to him.

Waggoner replied that he had not. Instead, he said he wanted to propose a simpler definition of subsistence farming, to read, “…farming for household use,” and a definition of commercial farming to read, “production of crops for sale.”

“That way we are not going into dollar amounts or ‘for sole purposes’ of this and that,” Waggoner explained of his reasoning.

Nye County Commission Chairman John Koenig immediately poked a hole in Waggoner’s definition, going back to the heart of the concerns for farmers market growers. “So if I am growing tomatoes in my backyard to take to the farmers market to sell, is that crops for sale?” Koenig asked.

“We’re a complaint-driven county,” Wichman replied. “If somebody complains about your tomatoes, you’re in trouble man.”

While some laughed at that, others did not view the possibility of complaints as amusing. Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox was one such person, stating that she feared the new definitions would give people to ability to maliciously attack their neighbors simply because they may not like them.

Waggoner attempted to assure the commission, “I think it still leaves some room, if there is a complaint… to address it on a case-by-case basis.”

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo made the motion to approve the definitions as proposed by Waggoner, with an effective date of March 1. Blundo remarked that though he was not entirely comfortable with the language, he believed it was very irresponsible of the county to have a language in the code that does not have associated definitions. The motion was seconded by commissioner Debra Strickland and passed 3-2 with Koenig and Cox against.

Pahrump resident and former editor of the Mirror newspaper Dann Weeks delivered a thorough tongue-lashing to the commission at the conclusion of the Feb. 19 meeting, stating that he was flabbergasted by the action taken that morning.

“Nye County outlawed tomatoes today,” Weeks said in obvious anger, noting that he had done some checking and discovered that not even Las Vegas had done such a thing.

“I don’t believe that this matter will pass the constitutional muster of law,” Weeks asserted. “You cannot tell people what to do with their food.”

At the commission’s next meeting, held March 3, Weeks was back before the board to reiterate his frustration with the definitions approved on Feb. 19. This time, he came armed with a copy of Nevada Revised Statute 446.866 which specifically prohibits any local governing body from creating any ordinance that would restrict a cottage food operation so long as that operation does not gross more than $35,000 per year, a law he said he believed was in direct conflict with the new definitions.

During the commissioner’s comments portion of the March 3 meeting, Blundo responded, “I would like to ask staff to, I’d like to bring that very topic Mr. Weeks was discussing, I’d like to bring that back and have it heard again. I do think we need to make some corrections there. I think a little bit more homework needed to be done.”

Koenig said he too wanted the definitions to be brought back to the board. “I think if we had left the wording alone, it would have agreed with the NRS (Nevada Revised Statute) and we would have been fine, but no, we changed it, so,” Koenig said.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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