PEPPERELL — The newly-appointed Agricultural Advisory Committee met this week to outline plans and start gathering information about the 23 other Massachusetts communities with similar farming bylaws. The committee will also pursue ways to share farming information with residents.
In its inaugural meeting two weeks ago, the committee drafted a mission statement declaring that members volunteered to serve the committee to promote “the noble pursuit of farming” and hopes to achieve its goals through “education, mediation, and cooperation,” according to secretary Renee Cyr.
The board also discussed accessing the town’s Web site, where useful farming information can be posted, and the impending closure to traditionally farming-oriented meetings at the Prescott Grange and the fact the Odd Fellows Lodge is attempting to buy the Grange building.
”Our point of view is we want to encourage farming and find ways to make things work,” Cyr said, expressing sadness at the Grange closing.
Chaired by Robin Hebert, the committee includes Cyr, James Friend, Lawrence Murphy and Steven Pearson. The board meets every other Monday in town hall and the public is welcome to attend.
The advisory board was created by the Right-to-Farm bylaw adopted by a unanimous vote of special town meeting on Oct. 24, 2005. Its role is that of spokesman for the farming community and it is empowered to respond to any request for information from any town board or committee and to educate the public about agriculture in the town.
When selectmen appointed members last month, they enjoyed the unusual luxury for Pepperell of having more applicants for a municipal board than available seats. Seven candidates turned out for the five-member board, three of whom must be be linked to the agricultural community.
In making the appointments, Selectman John Lynch said he would prefer to name applicants who are not members of other boards. Town administrator Robert Hanson noted that Friend was not seeking re-appointment to the Capital Programs Committee. Looking down the list, Lynch said he thought Frederick Farmer has enough to do as a member of the DPW Board.
It was Selectman Darrell Gilmore’s motion to appoint Friend, a Dow Street resident who owns cows; Pearson of Park Street; horse owner Hebert of Idal Street; Cyr, of Hollis Street and owner of Tranquility Bee Farm; and Murphy of North Street, who holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science and has 30 years experience in animal research.
The Right-to-Farm bylaw had been submitted to the town meeting warrant by petition. Its adoption put Pepperell on a list of 24 Bay State communities that have adopted variations of a model bylaw developed by the Department of Agricultural Resources in cooperation with the attorney general’s office. Pepperell modified the model bylaw’s language to a small degree.
The purpose of the bylaw is to encourage the pursuit of agriculture, to promote agriculture-based economic activities and to assist in the protection of Pepperell farmlands.
In the case of a newly-established neighborhood built around a farm, for example, the bylaw recognizes the farm as a pre-existing entity and negates any legal complaints made about odor or activities emanating from it.
Several aspects of the bylaw support the future of agriculture and cover activities considered accessory uses to farming, but does not change existing zoning bylaws or any other previously existing local regulations.
Cyr pointed out Pepperell still has some larger farms such as Gardener, Wilson and Kimball Farms, as well as a number of small farms. She and her husband produce honey on theirs, Scotch Pine Farm sells blueberries, and Friend’s Sunnyside Farm raises beef, as does Pearson, two of a handful in town.
Board members are appointed to staggered terms up to three years in length so as to maintain a continuity.