A longtime Lake Elmo farmer sued the city on Tuesday over an ordinance that restricts local farmers from selling products grown beyond city limits.

Richard Bergmann, owner of Country Sun Farm and Greenhouse, alleges that the ordinance is a restraint on trade. He is joined in the federal suit by farmers in Nebraska and North Carolina who supplied him with pumpkins and Christmas trees.

They are represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group that pursues what it refers to as "economic liberty" cases.

Bergmann and his family sell farm goods grown both inside and outside his Lake Elmo property. He grows some pumpkins on his land in Wisconsin and buys some from other growers, including one in Nebraska.

Almost all the Christmas trees Bergmann sells also come from out of town, mostly from a supplier in North Carolina. Lake Elmo has a 30-year-old ordinance forbidding farmers from selling anything that's not grown there.

Bergmann is not only growing some of his products on land outside of Lake Elmo, but also is buying farm goods grown by suppliers outside of Lake Elmo.

Out-of-town pumpkins

The city moved to enforce the ordinance in December after it discovered that Bergman was selling out-of-town pumpkins and Christmas trees, City Administrator Bruce Messelt said.

The law's intent is to help local farmers sell their wares, but Messelt said Bergmann's operation had become a much larger "commercial operation."

In the suit, Bergmann accuses the city of "economic protectionism" that "threatens to destroy the market the farmers serve and which the public enjoys." The suit alleges that the Lake Elmo action violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, "which guarantees a national market free from local protectionism."

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003