Town agricultural groups put their heads together

Jan 13 2014

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 13, 2014. By Gena Mangiaratti 

Northampton — When farmers from across the Valley get together in one room, they find the challenges they face are not that dissimilar.

That’s why Phil Korman, executive director of Community Involved In Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) said he asked members of town and city agricultural commissions to share their challenges and successes in a roundtable-style discussion Saturday at the Western Mass Winter Agricultural Commission Gathering in Smith Vocational School.

An agricultural commission is an advisory committee that represents the interests of farmers in a community, Korman explained. With some of these commissions having been around for longer than others, Korman said it is helpful for them to get together and learn from each others’ successes in advancing the interests of the farming communities they represent.

Around 40 commission members from 25 western Massachusetts communities were present. The gathering opened with a welcome from Mayor David Narkewicz.

Among the most shared challenges of the commission members represented was the effort to promote an understanding between the farmers and their non-farming neighbors.

“I think sometimes there’s this ‘us and them’ mentality, and that’s where that education has to happen,” said Meg Taylor, clerk for the agricultural commission in Williamsburg, in an interview after the discussion. She gave the example of residents becoming frustrated by farmers running loud equipment or questioning farmers’ treatment of animals.

She said she would like to make sure that farmers are aware that the commission is there to serve them by helping to resolve conflicts and promote their products.

Taylor raises chickens for their eggs and sheep for their wool at her farm. She said other commission members include maple producers and a dairy producer. She said the commission, which now has seven members, is looking for a meat producer to join.

Bob Mizula, secretary for the Montague agricultural commission, said the commission is looking to raise awareness of farmers’ rights in the community by adding signs identifying the town as a farming community so people entering will be better prepared for conditions such as loud equipment or tractors in the road. Montague had only passed the town by-law identifying the rights of farmers within the past couple years, Mizula noted.

Also among the common challenges that were shared was working to increase youth involvement in agriculture. John Pease, a member of the agricultural commission in Hatfield, suggested raising awareness among youth in the community by working to get local food into school lunches. His family maintained a farm in Hatfield from 1925 until he sold it in 2012.

In an interview following the roundtable discussion, he questioned whether young people are concerned about where their food will come from when they are older, and said he feels the region cannot be dependent on the South and the Midwest.

“We’ve got to produce it here,” Pease said. He expressed gratitude that the agricultural commission in Hatfield has one high school-aged representative.

Steve Damon, who is chairman of the agricultural commission in Gill and who works as a teacher, also suggested integrating field trips to farms in elementary social studies curriculums.

Pete Westover, contractor for Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and an organizer of the gathering, said he was glad to see commission members from different communities networking with each other after the roundtable discussion.

“You got a lot of people talking to each other, which is nice,” said Westover, of Whately. “It’s important for them to discuss what has worked.”



Jul 2024