GROTON -- Following a major updating of zoning regulations governing farming activities, the Agricultural Commission has begun to look ahead to address fallout resulting from changes made in the bylaw.
Those changes stemmed from a vote at last spring's town meeting approving amendments to the zoning bylaws regarding agriculture to more closely align them with prevailing state standards.
Aside from one change dealing with the housing of agricultural workers and barn managers on local farms, the more far-ranging amendment came with the decision to eliminate the requirement that agricultural enterprises receive a special permit from the Planning Board before making any significant alterations in their operations.
Although farming enterprises no longer need to seek a special permit whenever they alter their activities, all buildings still need to meet the town's building code. Barns and livestock still have to be looked over by the animal inspector and the Board of Health still maintains oversight in matters dealing with the public health or other nuisances.
The change in the bylaw does not affect the situation dealing with agricultural pursuits. In its right to farm bylaw, based on similar state regulations, the town "protects farmlands ... by allowing agricultural uses and related activities to function with minimal conflict with abutters and town agencies."
Moreover, the bylaw requires that anyone selling property in town must inform buyers that the town is a "right to farm" community and that "the property they are about to acquire lies within a town where farming activities occur."
The elimination of the special permit requirement, however, was needed because state law did not compel farmers to apply for special permits for changes to their operations beyond what every other property owner in town needs to do.
But with the elimination, a review process was also left unaddressed. No road map exists to which land use boards can refer to determine if practices on a farm are correct.
Prompted by the Board of Health, members of the AgriCom decided Aug. 14 to take time in the coming year to research good farming practices as defined by the state or established by independent farming organizations and make recommendations on which might be referred to in review situations.
Once a set of such practices is identified, a further amendment to the town's bylaw dealing with agriculture or others governing boards concerned with reviewing agricultural activity could be offered at a future town meeting.