TOWNSEND -- Farmers of every stripe turned out to talk about forming an agricultural commission.

The selectmen's chambers was the place to be if you were interested in growing eggs, produce, flowers, cattle, hay, producing silage or honey, or even planting an organic garden.

"It's been on the radar screen for awhile," said Townsend Conservation Agent Leslie Gabrilska of the proposed commission.

Interested parties met with Gary Howland, an AmeriCorps volunteer from the Nashua River Watershed Association in September. Since then, the Board of Selectman has agreed to sponsor a warrant article at Town Meeting to create the commission. Their support "will go a long way" in getting votes, he said during the Jan. 24 planning meeting.

If an article is approved, the selectmen would appoint the commissioners, whose role will be to advise, he said. "This is a town commission. You have no regulatory rights (to say) you can do this, you can't do that," Howland said.

"Mostly I see this as education for the farmers -- networking -- which is wonderful. It's like having the grange or a chamber of commerce for farmers," he said.

The farmers in attendance were quick to volunteer to serve on the commission once it is approved. They represent a cross-section of the agriculture businesses in town.

If Howland's proposed article is accepted as proposed, there will be five commissioners and three alternates.


The group will meet again to discuss the article before sending it to the Board of Selectmen prior to spring Town Meeting.

Interested in becoming one of the five commissioners are: Charlie Rossbach, Dew-More Farm; Jim Deroian, Deronfield Farm and a member of the Conservation Commission; Keith Hutchins, the Flower Hutch and member of the Massachusetts Agricultural Commission; Nancy Chapman, Shining Jade Farm; and John Trovata, Chrystal Spring Farm. Bart King, King Flowers; Priscilla Williams, Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening; and Sue Greenough, North Forty Farm, are interested in serving as alternates. Greenough was not present at the meeting, but Gabrilska said she had volunteered.

Hutchins said being part of the group will mean research. "Zoning and taxation issues, you have to make sure you are doing the right thing," he said, and suggested reading the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources handbook for agricultural commissions.

The group also discussed forming a farmers market, where to hold it and who could be in it. "We could try and organize it around the band concerts," Travato said, because people are already there.

Vendors could be limited to Townsend farmers. "You don't want to bring competition in. It doesn't make for good friends to bring competition in," Hutchins said.

If the commission runs a farmers market, they can limit who is a vendor, Howland said.

Other issues involved that might need to be considered are food-safety rules if prepared food is sold. In Ashburnham, the local Board of Health worked with the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health to make special arrangements, he said.

The networking aspect of forming an agricultural commission was already in play during the planning session. New farmers were ribbed by the more established agriculturalists.

"I'm a hobby farmer," Carol Niven said. She sells eggs and flowers and just put up a greenhouse and works from home. "Don't give up your day job," Rossbach told her.

Peter Berube said he and Nancy Chapman are "trying to get some kind of farm started." They are still removing trees.

"I always wanted to have a farm," Chapman said.

"Be careful what you wish for," Deroian said, because it will take plenty of money. A set of tires for a tractor can run $1,600.

Farming does seem to stay in the blood though. King, present with his son Jarrod, said the boy is already a fifth-generation farmer.