Canton explores new zoning for small farms
A field at littleGrasse Foodworks last summer in Canton. Photo courtesy littleGrasse Foodworks.
Here's one way the local food movement is having an impact on rural communities. It used to be the farms on the outskirts of towns were zoned agricultural. They were mostly left to their own devices.
Today, entrepreneurial farmers are coaxing nearly every vegetable you can think of from just a couple acres of land. They're raising chickens and hogs. They're signing up CSA members and, if things work out well, actually making a living.
These small businesses can exist close to town, so they do. That makes it easier for the farmer to bring crops to the market and for CSA members to pick up their bounty. In some cases, they're farming in tiny parcels that were never dreamed of as "agricultural". And they may be bumping up against the neighbors' expectations of quiet, smell, or what kind of activity they expect next door.
The town of Canton in New York's St. Lawrence County is digging into these issues. Tonight the town board will consider revised zoning rules to allow small farms to produce and market in areas never before considered agricultural. Right now, they're zoned residential.
The proposed changes were led by littleGrasse Foodworks, a farm and CSA owned by Flip Filippi and Bob Washo. Right now, they're illegal. They're farming land that's right at the entrance to the popular village park and swimming area. So they're not going unnoticed!
I asked Bob Washo via email what the changes are about. Here's his reply:
The town of Canton has a genuine opportunity to lead the way by adopting more inclusive language into their code surrounding sensible food production near population centers. For the longest time the St Lawrence Valley has tried to play "catch up" on so many issues. We have a rich Agricultural tradition and an even brighter future but only if we meet the needs of today and anticipate those of tomorrow.
You can watch a nifty slide show presentation they put together here.
The Canton town planning board has been receptive to the changes. It's already rezoned rural areas to allow animal slaughterhouses to be built to cater to the growing local meat demand. Town supervisor David Button told the Watertown Daily Times, "we’re hoping people see how ag-friendly Canton is and consider bringing jobs and businesses to our community."
Button also told the paper he supports some of the zoning revisions for small farms, but he's against raising animals in residential zones.
Canton's planning board meeting about rezoning for small farms is tonight at 7pm at the town hall on Main St.
I'd love to hear how these issues are playing out in your hamlet. Are roosters making the neighbors complain? Is there a place for a "microfarm" in your town? Or is that what should happen on all those unplowed acres outside of town?