LETTER: Let's Vote to Strengthen Groton's Farm Laws
Agriculture has been an important part of Groton since its founding. Groton Town Meeting adopted an article declaring the town of Groton as a "Right to Farm Community" and established the Agricultural Commission. The recent update to the Town's Master Plan encourages the growth of farming and local food. To help promote these goals the Agricultural Commission and the Planning Board are co-sponsoring an amendment to be voted on at the spring town meeting. The proposed changes better organize the agricultural section of the town bylaws and will bring Groton's bylaws into compliance with current state law.
According to Massachusetts State Law, towns may not require a special permit for agriculture. Groton currently requires special permits for several types of farming , including keeping livestock, greenhouses and roadside stands. Our zoning code must be kept in accordance with state law, to do otherwise leaves the town open to costly litigation. Requiring a special permit to do agriculture in an agricultural zone makes no sense and violates state law. When farming is done on conservation or parks land the committees who manage those properties already have a full process before a property can be used for farming. In these cases a second process (the special permit) would be redundant and illegal under state law.
We have added a section to address Agricultural Labor Housing. Agricultural labor housing is housing on a farm for people who work there. It can apply to housing for a resident manager or seasonal workers. Both types of building are subject to the building code. Housing for seasonal workers is also subject to additional annual inspections. Agricultural Housing is allowed by state law and is currently used in Groton.
We rephrased the section on animals to remove specific numbers which do not consider size of the property or performance characteristics. Arbitrary numbers generally qualify as "unreasonable regulation of Agriculture" which is prohibited by state law. A large farm can support more animals than a small one. Baby animals and seasonally kept animals are different than fully-grown animals. We are lucky in Groton to have pasture kept animals; we want to keep them part of our food shed.
With these changes, citizens of Groton lose no protections but we reduce paperwork for farmers and time for town committees. The Building Commission will still enforce the building code. The Animal Inspector will still visit our barns and animals. Mass Department of Agriculture will still set statewide rules and standards and work with the animal inspector to maintain and enforce them. The Board of Health will still control health issues and public nuisances, including the handling and disposition of animal waste. The Conservation Commission will still monitor the water and the wetlands. The Storm Water Advisory Committee would still regulate storm water runoff and erosion control. The Pesticide Control Board will still regulate use of pesticides. We, members of your appointed Agricultural Commission, will also be in place promoting best practices at the local farms that Groton values so much.
Your Agricultural Commission,