A city farm family in Minnesota that sells pumpkins and Christmas trees grown in Wisconsin plans to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday in the Twin Cities, claiming its constitutional right to engage in free trade is being violated.
The suit against the Lake Elmo City Council by the Bergmann family challenges an ordinance that threatens a 90-day jail sentence and $1,000 fine if the family sells products grown outside the city limits.
Much of the land within the small St. Paul suburb near the Wisconsin border is still farmland. A Lake Elmo official said Monday the ordinance currently is not enforced and is under review. But he said the city’s position is that the farm should either be rezoned from agricultural to commercial to reflect its interstate commerce activity, or should seek a special land-use permit because it has evolved from a traditional farm into a retail business.
The lawsuit claims that 20% to 30% of Country Sun Farm’s gross income would disappear this year if the city carried out its threat last December to begin enforcing the ordinance. The farm’s owners claim they cannot enter into contracts for Christmas trees from other states, or plant pumpkins on their own land in Wisconsin, with the uncertainty hanging over them.
Anthony Sanders, the Minnesota attorney filing the lawsuit, said zoning is a red herring, anyway.
"Even if they could rezone, the city is still discriminating, based on where products are grown," Sanders said Monday. "The case is about a constitutional principle – the right to sell products grown in other states."