Signage Supports Colchester Farms
Farming has special significance to us all: it is where food comes from!
By designating Colchester as a "Right to Farm" town, our leaders recognize that to retain and maintain farming in our community it is necessary to bolster the public's understanding of the importance of farms in Colchester. Ours is a traditionally rural town, with strong agrarian roots. Growth, modernization and development have certainly brought changes, but our rural character is worth preserving. As part of the effort to preserve the character of Colchester, CLT, in partnership with Colchester Agricultural Commission, local farmers and other groups are working to put signs on roads entering town: signs that pronounce our support for local farms. CLT will purchase the necessary sign posts for the town to accomplish this initiative. Public Works has agreed to install all the signs along both town and state roads (once approvals are granted) at no cost to us as part of the Town's participation in this endeavor.
Most residents probably are not aware of the Right to Farm, or that it is part of Connecticut General Statutes (Section 19a-341). Colchester is a Right to Farm town and Chapter 55 of the Town Code echoes state law regarding “identified impacts.” Odor is one of the identified impacts. Municipal ordinances and laws mainly aim to protect farms and agricultural operations from nuisance lawsuits. It seems that city slickers are prone to being offended by the smell of fresh manure when they move to a rural community! Here’s the news: almost always, the cows and horses were here first. Rural is a designation that carries the connotation of farms, which carries the connotation of farm odors. All is right and well when there are smelly farms nearby. We believe that Colchester will be the first community in CT to adopt such signage, though many towns in MA have been displaying signs of this kind for a number of years to proclaim their own town's adoption of the MA "Right to Farm" statutes. All fifty states, including Connecticut, have enacted "right to farm" laws that seek to protect farmers and ranchers abiding by generally accepted and standard farming practices from "nuisance" lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations are pre-existing, and who later use "nuisance" actions to attempt to stop those operations. Many communities throughout the US have additionally adopted their own ordinances to not only refine and clarify what is covered in terms of accepted practices and nuisance actions, but as a means of supporting local farmers, farming practices, and farms. Such is the case with Colchester, which adopted its "right to farm" ordinance in 2008 as part of a set of actions recommended as a result of an agricultural viability study conducted on behalf of the town of Colchester.Before such laws and ordinances were enacted, it was not unusual for an existing farm to be forced to halt or change its operations, to face lawsuits or spend large amounts of time and/or money defending standard farm practices from new neighbors and town officials. These kinds of activities have played a not so insignificant part in the loss of farmland in our country over time. In fact, according to the American Farmland Trust, the years between 1992 and 2012 saw the loss of almost 31 million acres of farmland, primarily to development - an amount of acreage equal to all the farmland in Iowa. 11 million of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation. And, according to Wikipedia, in the 5 years between 1997 and 2002, the state of Connecticut alone lost over 12% of its farmland, with the greatest percentage of loss occuring in New London and Middlesex counties (-23% and -22% respectively). As a state, we continue to lose thousands of acres of farmland to non-agricultural uses each year, despite efforts to stem that tide. From a land trust perspective, it's become increasingly clear that one of the most cost effective methods of conserving open lands (and keeping local taxes low, by the way) is to ensure farmland is kept in agriculture, that our farms remain viable and our farmers are appreciated and supported. Colchester's right to farm ordinance helps by recognizing the valuable role our local working lands play in contributing to our rural character and quality of life here in Colchester. Colchester farms not only provide scenic vistas and spaces that preserve wildlife habitat, they also protect wetlands that filter drinking water, provide food security by maintaining the capacity of local food production and contribute to our local economy by providing jobs and keeping local dollars here in town. Colchester's "right to farm" ordinance specifically supports local farmers by allowing that odors from livestock, manure, fertilizer or feed, as well as noise, dust, or fumes from livestock or farm equipment used in normal, generally accepted farming practices are part and parcel of the standard operation of a farm and, as such, do not constitute a nuisance when generally accepted and best practices are being followed. The "right to farm" signage you see has been funded by the Colchester Land Trust and was originally approved by the town for display on local farm property. Signs were given to 25 farmers and other interested parties by the end of September and last month CLT received town approval to display the signage on town roads. Next steps are for town officials to seek approval from the State of Connecticut for display on state roads entering Colchester. Similar signage has been adopted by communities in the State of Massachusetts where 172 towns are currently listed with the state as "right to farm" communities. If successful here, we believe Colchester will be the first town in Connecticut to promote its "right to farm" status, and we anticipate other Connecticut communities will want to follow our lead.