TOWNSEND -- Like owners of other businesses, farmers network. Whether they are raising crops, livestock or forest products, the people working the land have common interests and concerns.
It used to be the grange that brought them together, perhaps organizing a yearly fair or a harvest supper. Townsend has plenty of agricultural businesses, but no longer has a grange.
Instead, beekeepers, greenhouse owners or anyone trying to make some money off something they grow are forming Agricultural Commissions. The farmers and their needs are diverse, and each commission is comprised of local people addressing local issues.
Townsend farmers are in the process of forming a commission. The Board of Selectmen has agreed to sponsor an article on the Town Meeting warrant creating the volunteer commission. Farmers met with a representative from the state Department of Agricultural Resources specializing in starting up the commissions on Feb. 12.
The commissions began forming in the 1980s, Peter Westover said. In the last five years there has been a surge in interest, now there are 150 across the state. "There's a real sense of progress," he said.
He had advice on who to involve, the role of the commission and how to keep interest going once the commission is formed.
"What do they consider agriculture?" asked Charlie Rossbach, the owner of Dew-More Farm.
"Normally, it's everything. Don't rule out under 5 acres. You can grow a lot on one or two. If you think you're agricultural, you are," Westover said. Forestry is also considered part of agriculture. Horse owners also usually come under the umbrella.
Part of the role of the commission is to advise officials when there is a conflict between farmers and nearby residents. Because Townsend already has a right-to-farm bylaw, it is ahead of the game, said AmeriCorps volunteer Gary Howland.
Even with the bylaw there are problems. If a farmer gets up early in the morning to use a tractor and spread manure, the neighbors will complain, said beekeeper and orchard owner John Travato.
"They complain about that. Legally, you are okay. Technically the neighbors still complain. You've got to balance it off," Rossbach said.
The commissioners might find they will serve as advisers in finding a compromise for such situations, Howland said.
The town master plan should have an agricultural component, said Westover. Additionally, the commission might also want to address how to deal with the wetlands act exclusions.
For example, beaver dams can quickly flood a field. Usually the "animals balance themselves. What's going to take care of the beavers?" said Rossbach. "You can take (a dam) down two feet" but it will be rebuilt in two days.
At the end of the meeting, Westover advised the group to think long term to keep the group going. "What happens in three years? There's a lot you can do to raise the profile of farming," he said. Projects like mapping farmland, creating brochures of local farms, running a farmers market or organizing farm fairs when the public can visit farms are good ways to promote the businesses and keep the commission fresh.
The Townsend endeavor is off to a good start, said Westover, "Sounds good. Sounds like you have a good head of steam up."