Administrative Assistant Kathy Poirot swore in Kim Wells, Richard Haley and Sarah Gardner to the Agricultural Commission.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's dormant Agricultural Commission is starting back up with the increase of statewide interest in locally grown foods.
According to Kim Wells, who started the commission, the group has been in existence but have not been meeting but with recent activity, such as the town's upcoming vote to allow farms to host events, interest in the commission has peaked.
"Everybody knows farmers work long hours but until you've done it, you don't really get it. So it was hard to keep the commission going," Wells said on Monday when the Board of Selectmen appointed two members and an alternate. "Fortunately there has been a renewed interest in the commission's operations... There's a lot of situations and there is a lot of interest"
Wells, who owns East Mountain Farm, was reappointed to the commission with farmer Richard Haley. Sarah Gardner, who is heading the Keep Farming effort in the Northern Berkshires, was appointed as an alternate.
Gardner said that during her Keep Farming study, she found that about half the towns in the Northern Berkshires did not have agricultural commissions and three of the ones that were in existence were not meeting. Adams was the only active Agricultural Commission, Gardner said, and has been advocating for the others to start up.
"There wasn't a lot of activity going on and we saw a need for it," she said. "There are a lot of new small farms coming on but the older farms are going under. They're losing money every year."
The commission is tasked with being the liaison between farmers and assist prospective farmers through the transactions and getting a new farm started.
"There is some real profound statements [in the commissions bylaws] that indicate the importance of this commission," Selectmen David Rempell said.
Gardner said this need is growing because of an increased interest in farming. She hopes that the efforts will help farmers become profitable.
Reflecting on the importance of town committees, Selectwoman Jane Allen said the board should do formal interviews with candidates for all positions.
"There are some promising trends. There is an increase of the number of farms statewide, a small increase, but most of the new farms are really small and over half the farms in the state make less than $10,000 a year," Gardner said. "While there is more but it's more hobby farming."
Wells said that only three or four farmers in town are making enough money to survive on the just that income while the rest are working full-time jobs outside of the farm.
Because of the increased interest and having long history of farming, Haley said he agreed to join the commission when he was asked.
"I was born on a farm, I've been on the same farm all my life, I've been here 46 years and I just thought it would be something I could help out with," Haley said.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Thomas Sheldon said he was "delighted" that the three members were willing to join the commission.
Similarly, the board later made its annual arbor day proclamation honoring the holiday.
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In addition, Article 43 of the minutes from the 2006 Annual Town Meeting state that the Commission's duties include but are not limited to:
1. Serve as facilitators for encouraging the pursuit of agriculture in Williamstown,
2. Promote ag-based economic opportunities in Town
3. Act as mediators, advocates, educators, and negotiators on farming issues.
4. Work for the preservation of ag lands
5. Advise the Town Meeting, Bd of Selectmen, Planning Board, ZBA, Conservation Comm, Bd of Health, Historical Comm, Bd of Assessors, or any other appropriate Town Boards, on issues involving agriculture.
6. Shall pursue all initiatives appropriate to creating a sustainable ag community.
The Editor's link is to the Right to Farm Bylaw which was designed initially to notify prospective Williamstown property owners that this is a Right-to-Farm Community, and that they should expect the noises, smells, and other activities emitted by farms. It also spells out Farmers' Rights which Williamstown adopted and are a direct replica of the MA Right-to-Farm Bylaw.
Thank you. Unfortunately, the link to the town website gives a description of our Right to Farm bylaw, but does not describe the role or purpose of the Ag Commission. I am guessing that you mean it is to arbitrate disputes and facilitate land purchases by farmers, but is that all there is to it?
It's been my feeling that the Ag Commission has not been meeting because it doesn't actually have anything before it to meet about. Unless there are problems between farmers and other property owners, or a land transfer that needs help (?), what is their purpose?
I do hope that their purpose is not going to be to advocate non-agricultural uses of farms. The "right to farm" doesn't mean the "right to hold weddings and concerts". While I am not completely against such uses, the Agricultural Commission, by definition, should not be involving itself in such initiatives.
I'd like to see this article fleshed out with details about the work that the Ag Commission will be doing. I don't really see what "saving farms" has to do with the commission. Farms are going under because of the commodities market and the cost of doing business - what can the commission do to mitigate that?