TOWNSEND — Townsend is in a good position to set up an agricultural commission because the town has already approved a right-to-farm bylaw, Gary Howland said.
“You basically put the cart in front of the horse,” he said.
The Americorps volunteer from the Nashua River Watershed Association met with local farmers and conservationists on Sept. 18 to discuss reasons to form a commission.
An agricultural commission “is not anything new in the area. It works the same way the old grange used to,” Howland said.
A commission would serve as a voice for farmers in the municipal government by providing the information that the selectmen and town administrator need when dealing with agricultural issues.
For example, a farmer might meet opposition to opening a farm stand or field complaints about the smell of manure or the noise of a tractor in the early morning, Howland said.
Different rules govern what agricultural businesses can do compared to what a resident can do, he said. An agricultural commission could give this knowledge to the town when addressing disputes.
The commission could also be instrumental in preserving open land.
“Eighty-five percent of open land in Massachusetts, at least a few years ago, was owned by farmers,” Keith Hutchins said. Now, when the land comes up for sale, towns have the right of first refusal.
He has worked on state farm legislation in the past. He and his son Jason own and run the Flower Hutch.
Jason and Bart King, from King Farm on Scales Lane, both belong to state-wide organizations that promote using land for agriculture and supporting local agricultural businesses.
People need to be educated on the benefits of buying local, quality food, Jason said.
“Do you want the cheap (stuff) or the do you want the good? We’ve got to get out of that cesspool,” he said.
“Don’t send all your money to a conglomerate in Kentucky,” he said.
An agricultural commission could advocate for local farmers, support local growers by opening a farmers market or by creating a map of town farms and could be active in preserving open space.
If a commission is formed, the members will determine the direction of board, Howland said.
The commission will be able to communicate with others in town government but will not be a regulatory board; it will not be able to make rules, Howland said.
He suggested setting up a meeting with the Board of Selectmen to discuss putting an article on the Town Meeting warrant to form a commission.