Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Right to Farm (and the Regulations that make it Difficult)

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North Stonington has a Right to Farm Ordinance, to "recognize the importance of protecting prime farmland, to identify those parcels for which preservation is a priority, and to foster farming as a way of life by declaring this municipality’s support of the farmer’s right to farm."

A good thing, right?  Support and encouragement for farmers!

Except that the right to farm is restricted by the town zoning and planning commission.  And while the commission is "urged to adopt regulations consistent with this ordinance," there are a lot of zoning regulations that make the right to farm difficult for many landowners.  The zoning regulations are meant to keep neighbors happy (ie, minimize noise and smell) and the town looking beautiful.  These considerations are extremely important, but how does that translate into enforceable details?

I called the Planning and Zoning Commission this morning, after searching the internet last night and this morning for "understandable" details (which, to me, means regulations that I can read without having to then search 15 million other code numbers before I actually understand what is being said).  The friendly woman on the phone directed me to section 1406: Agriculture Zoning Regulations.

I was pleasantly surprised that I feel unrestricted by the zoning regulations when writing my business plan.  Hooray!

The biggest detail is that the Full Heart Farm property is over 10 acres (11.3, to be exact).  Properties less than 10-acres have very specific animal-density regulations (ie the number of cows, chickens, or sheep I would be allowed to keep on the property would be limited).  However, "no limits shall apply to farms having ten (10) acres or more."  Rejoice!  Even pigs are allowed (something that I'm learning is not allowed in most of the towns around here.

The other details of Agricultural Zoning that would pertain to Full Heart Farm involve agritourism (we hope to have several community-oriented classes and events), waste management, signage, and roadside stands.  In a nutshell, agritourism activities are allowed as long as they are appropriately scaled, provide ample on-site parking, and follow all noise/public health/event town ordinances.  Very doable, as long as we make a friendly first impression and gain the support of our neighbors (or at least the tolerance).

Waste management should not be an issue.  Animals kept on pasture poop on the pasture and their manure is readily absorbed into the soil, rather than being built up in a building year-round.  I will work with Natural Resources and Conservation Services to develop a management plan that protects natural water sources (including the beautiful brook) and properly composts waste from the barn (from brooding chicks or keeping young animals in the winter).

A roadside stand smaller than 50 square feet doesn't require a permit, and stands up to 200 square feet are allowed, provided there is ample parking.  This is great news, as direct-marketing our produce from an on-farm stand could be very profitable.  The farm is off a fairly busy road, and a farmstand offers the luxury of not having to leave the farm to sell our products (once we become established).

A permanent, free-standing sign no larger than 16 square feet per side is allowed (following setback and illumination guidelines).  We are allowed one additional seasonal side (not permanent) for every 300 feet of frontage off of the road, and we could also hang a sign on the barn without regulation.

I'm sure there are important details that I am missing from reading through the zoning and planning regulations that will impact Full Heart Farm, but my initial understanding of the policies leaves me feeling not-limited by the current laws.  I hope that positive relationships with local politicians can help establish good rapport and leave us without the nightmare-ish struggles I've heard other farmers tell.  But I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Details on North Stonington Agricultural Zoning can be found HERE.

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