Subcommittee Backs Formation of Haverhill Agricultural Commission, Defers on ‘Right-to-Farm’

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

Formation of a Haverhill Agricultural Commission won the endorsement of a City Council subcommittee last night.

The Council’s Citizens Outreach Committee, headed by Councilor Melinda E. Barrett, will recommend the farmers’ advocacy group when the full City Council meets in two weeks. Formation of an Agricultural Commission is governed by state law and requires between three and seven members. Eva Valentine, who operates Speakeasy Farm off North Broadway where she sells eggs and other farm goods, applauded the action.

“I think it is about time. Considering how many generations of farmers we’ve had in this community, why we haven’t had one is kind of surprising to me,” Valentine said.

State law says Agricultural Commissions can own or lease land, educate the public, advocate for farmers and assist farmers with resolving conflicts with neighbors, among other activities. Marlene Stasinos of Chris’ Farm Stand says it can be a teaching tool. “One of the things I think the AgCom can help with is educating the public where their food is coming from. That’s important.”

Devan Ferreira of the Haverhill Friends of Agriculture said the group has been meeting for two months. She notes inactive farms are a concern since they are at risk for development. She explained, “Across the country, it’s kind of a crisis that the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is above 55. Everyone is kind of starting to age out all at once and so the transferring of farm land into the hands of future farmers is something that can be hard to do for farmers.”

Ferreira says a commission can help farmers find agricultural buyers or work with them to at least preserve land as open space.

A proposed “right-to-farm” ordinance brought concern from Gary Shahinian. He told members he worries about farm activities that could harm values of adjacent properties. Councilors deferred direct action on such an ordinance, saying recommendations may be made by the future commission.

Besides Barrett, the subcommittee includes Council Vice President Thomas J. Sullivan and Councilors Timothy J. Jordan and Colin F. LePage. Also attending were Councilors John A. Michitson and Joseph J. Bevilacqua.

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