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Letter to the Board from Chatham Agricultural Partnership

At the Town Board Q&A, the Planner kept insisting the new zoning laws were created with farming in mind… but the Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP) has concerns.

The following is an email CAP sent the board.

July 8, 2019

TO: Town Board, Town of Chatham
FROM: Chatham Agricultural Partnership (“CAP”)
RE: Proposed Zoning Changes

The Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP) is writing to express our concerns over the proposed changes to the current Zoning in the Town of Chatham, most specifically as the proposed changes affect farms and farming in Chatham. 

The CAP is a group appointed by the Town Board and charged with overseeing the implementation of the Town of Chatham Agricultural Protection Plan that was adopted by the Town September 17, 2009. Goals of the plan include achieving a “zero net loss” of working farmland by addressing farm transition issues and new farm development, being a “farm friendly” town, and supporting and sustaining a system of locally grown, healthy foods.

As you are well aware, a full 25% of the town’s land is in active agricultural use. Most of that is in NYS designated agricultural districts.  It is critical that our Zoning Law respects and supports this.  Specifically any zoning needs to align with and support the recommendations in the Plan and in concert with policies associated with being in a designated agricultural district.

We believe that the Town Board has consistently, over many years and administrations, sent clear signals of support for farming in Chatham, as demonstrated by:

However, throughout this re-writing of the proposed Zoning Code, no member of the Chatham Agricultural Partnership was on the committee, nor, to our knowledge were any primary-income farmers on the drafting committee.  We are dismayed by this disregard for such an important part of the community.

As stated in the Agricultural Protection Plan, farming in Chatham is a fragile enterprise. One action can put a farm out of business, and that subsequently impacts other farming operations. There are numerous interdependencies among existing farms.

And as you may be aware, trying to survive financially operating a family farm is not an easy task.  Farmers need to be creative in ways to reach their end-market and frequently need to find additional sources of revenue from their farm, farm land and ancillary structures on their land.  We find many of the well-intentioned but over-reaching proposals in the new Code to ignore these economic realities and to potentially limit and restrict farm or adjunct operations.  The unintended consequence will be the loss of farms and the sub-division and development of farming lands.

Outside pressures already exist in NYS and nationwide.  As the Buffalo News writes: “New farm labor mandates will wreak havoc across upstate’s agricultural community…in many upstate areas, family farms are critical to the local economy and a part of community identity.  A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that New York State lost 2,000 farms from 2012 through 2017. Thanks to these down-state driven labor mandates, there’s no doubt that thousands of other farms will close in the coming years.”

We do not want to see Chatham add further restraints and obstacles to those already coming from the outside.  On the contrary, Chatham needs to be doing everything it can to help farms survive outside pressures.  It takes a community to support farming. Farmers purchase locally. If you lose farms, you lose farm suppliers. If you lose farm land, neighboring farms become less viable. If you lose farms, the local food system is impacted. If you lose farms, the beautiful rural landscape is at risk.

Please pause this approval process to ensure the needs of Chathams farms and farmers are fully considered, meet NYS Agriculture standards, and serve the best interests of the entire community.

Respectfully Yours,
The Board of the Chatham Agricultural Partnership

Mary Gail Biebel
Bob Bradford
Tom Clark
Tom Crowell
Willy Denner
Jeff Lick
Courtney McDonnell
Eric Ooms
Edie Root
Donna Staron

1 Town of Chatham Agricultural Protection Plan, page 5.

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