"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What is a farm?

The following editorial is timely here in Moultonboro. It is important to understand that much of our town is zoned as "residential/ agriculturall". The definition of agricultural according to RSA 21:34-a is very broad  and includes all aspects of breeding, raising, and selling livestock, silvilculture (timber and logging), honey and maple syrup production, and crops ranging from vegetables and fruit to hay and seeds along with the processing, storage, and transportation of the agricultural products. It provides Planning Boards around the state the tools to preserve the diverse agricultural lands uses we find all throughout New Hampshire.

What is a farm? Zoning laws need updating
EDITORIAL Union Leader

A Henniker Christmas tree farmer has lost before the state Supreme Court in a case that could spell the end for some struggling New Hampshire farms. Citizens who don’t want to see more small farms turned into developments will need to act to prevent that.

To make ends meet, Stephen E. Forster of Forster Christmas Tree Farm in Henniker has been renting part of his 110 acres for weddings and meetings for a few years. Henniker officials ordered him to stop, saying it was a zoning violation.

Forster challenged the order, saying the new business activity was covered under the state’s 2005 law allowing “agritourism.” Last week the Supreme Court said agritourism was separate from agriculture and therefore not allowed under the town’s zoning ordinance. Forster must stick to farming only.

The court’s decision is debatable, but by the time such a debate is settled it could be too late for small farmers like Forster. New Hampshire has many small farms that stay in business by renting their land for non-agricultural uses such as weddings, tours and meetings. Though state law recognizes this as a legitimate use of farmland, some local zoning ordinances do not. Those ordinances could put these farms out of business.

Forster’s case illustrates the insane logic of such regulations. Forster may operate a working farm. Should he truck in migrant workers and run a noisy, traffic-heavy livestock or cash crop operation, his neighbors could do nothing about it. But if he opts for a few weddings a year, his neighbors can shut him down.

The ordinance does not protect neighbors from noise or traffic; it simply dictates the kind of noise and traffic allowed. The goal is not to protect neighbors, but to force property owners to conform to the town’s preconceived, outdated concept of a farm. If we want small farms to thrive in New Hampshire, we cannot constrain them this way.


Joe Cormier/jcormier2@myfairpoint.net said...

Was not a unanimous decision!
See NH Supremes ...

"RSA 21:34-a does not include "agritourism” in the definition of “agriculture".

"Of course, if the legislature disagrees
with our statutory interpretation, it is free to amend the
statute as it sees fit."
"See Appeal of Town of Nottingham, 153 N.H. 539, 566 (2006)"

NH Supremes

Concord Monitor:

MOBO Zoning ordinance:
page 20 Commercial Use within the Residential/Agricultural Zone


This whole legislative/judicial brouhaha, reminds me of an old agricultural saying, to grow mushrooms. Kind-a-like a MoBo headline ...

"Keep them in the dark ... fill-em full of ... fertilizer ... and they'll grow".

The use of the term "fertilizer" is not the four letter word that starts with an "S", that was usually used.

Stumped said...

What is the difference between a farm stand that buys in pies and other baked goods from wholesalers, baskets and craft items made in China or other food products Not made or grown on their farm and a farm that holds weddings for those wanting to be married in the rapidly diminishing, quiet and rural setting? Many if not most "farm stands" have few if any "farming" going on until the last two weeks in August when they start stocking up their freezers with frozen bakery products, buying in sweatshirts and hats with local place-names silkscreened. I know, I used to sell them much of their food products; driving past their "farms" all the rest of the year seeing no signs of farming in progress.
It would seem to be light enough use to conduct weddings as a supplement to support the ever rising costs of farming. After all, the "use" issue is or should be concerned with the commercial weight of activity on the land. One should not construct steel foundry or an oil refinery in a cornfield for instance. I get that. But Farm stands that are selling stuffed teddys and sheep from China are much more traffic than providing a place for a wedding.
It would seem, by this observer, that the town fathers of Henniker have a bone to pick other than keeping farmer to farming. They have never taken their grandkids to a local farm stand for a slice of cheer pie? For patting a baby lamb? Feeding the Hens? What part of farming is selling a frozen pie made in Pottstown PA with corporate headquarters in Minnesota, stuffed animals from China. IT IS ALL PART OF SUPPORTING THE FARM. Like many businesses and industries, farming has been hit with the newly "transformed America". That has necessitated supplementing the farm with anything that is compatible to the property and yet produces income.
It might behoove the town fathers of Henniker to come to Moultonboro and see what can happen when a bucolic horse pasture is transformed into a neon mini golf course all fitted out with plastic palm trees. Now there is a reason to be concerned. But then the mini golf was developed by a selectmen (at the time) not a farmer, of Moultonboro.

Never Ending said...

Here we are in beautiful Moultonborough.
And every year we pass more and more and more zoning restrictions.
So what do you expect?

Eric Taussig said...

I suggest reading today's Laconia Sun, at:


about "Pecker" the pet rooster who could not get a zoning variance in Laconia as Pecker resides in a residential zone unlike the residential/agricultural zone of Moultonborough that covers the entire Town. What is more interesting is how businesses get special exceptions and variances for all sorts of activities where an individual can't keep a rooster, because it is considered agricultural and not allowed in a residential zone and the owner could not obtain a variance to allow the rooster's retention as a "pet" instead of an agricultural animal.

Steve Bennett said...

See my response to UL editorial:

I am responding to your editorial of June 15, "What is a Farm".
As an intervenor in the Supreme Court case, it appears that you did not identify the key issue involved or understand the court's decision.
I cannot accept your conclusion that Henniker, the county Superior Court and the Supreme Court are all anti farm in a state with so many proud farmers. There was a farm-friendly reason all jurisdictions ruled the same way.
To me, the ruling means that under agritourism, commercial businesses on a farm cannot be the primary operation. To do so would create a disincentive to maintain or grow the agricultural operation of a farm.
I grew up on a small family farm and if I could have started a commercial business on the farm that made 10 times as much money pouring champagne only 4 months of the year as I could from farming, I would be very reluctant to continue working the soil except as a hobby.
The state must be able to keep commercial developers from high jacking agritourism and using it to squeeze out the real farming.
I encourage you to better understand this case and to set the record straight; this decision was correct in keeping farming the primary business of farms, and that appropriate commercial businesses under agritourism can continue to provide supplemental financial help to farmers. The agritourism regulations do not need "fixing".