Haverhill Councilors Endorse Farm Protection Acts, Including Local Agricultural Commission

Devan Ferreira introduced Haverhill Friends of Agriculture. (WHAV News photograph.)

Although many outsiders see Haverhill simply as an urban center, Haverhill city councilors Tuesday night recognized the city’s eight working farms. They endorsed creation of an agricultural commission and a right-to-farm ordinance.

Devan Ferreira, introducing the Haverhill Friends of Agriculture, told councilors farmland is being threatened by development. She explained an agricultural commission would work with other communities to obtain guidance, mediate disputes between farms and neighbors and suggest regulatory changes to help farms thrive. With the city working on a new master plan, she said the time is right.

“I think we’re long overdue for this here in Haverhill. We have a lot of active farmland and not so active farmland that is being preserved here,” she said.

Don Cox of Old Wild Farm, East Broadway, said, as of May 2017, 172 communities in the state have formed agricultural commissions and 140 adopted right-to-farm bylaws. He noted Haverhill has more farms than many of these communities. In Essex County, Boxford, Topsfield, Danvers, Rowley, Newbury, Salisbury and Ipswich have created commissions. Cox explained, state law allows such advocacy boards of between three and seven members—the majority of which must be farmers.

Right-to-farm bylaws and ordinances allow agricultural uses as a right. Besides his farm, others endorsing the concepts are Chris’ Farm Stand, Willow Springs Vineyards, Wally’s Vegetables, Kimball Farm, Fitzgerald Farm and Tardy Farm.

Backing the right-to-farm, Marlene Stasinos of Chris’ Farm Stand noted the plight she faced back in 2011 over raising pigs. “My vegan neighbors made a big stink about eight, hand-raised pigs on our 10-acre farm, in the woods, with the very best, humane, certified pens and barns.”

As a result of the “havoc” that was created, she said, the Board of Health limited her farm to two pigs. She teased the neighbors’ objections.

“We would endanger their lives because, you know, pigs eat humans, right? And, it would smell horrible,” she said.

On a motion of councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who said a benefit of the plans is “agritourism,” councilors unanimously agreed to send the matter to the mayor and a subcommittee for review. Council President John A. Michitson also asked the city’s legal department to review to ensure there is a “grievance procedure” if necessary.

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