Agriculture

Upstate N.Y. Town Defeats Anti-Farming Bill

A dispute with neighbor spurred a measure to crack down on smaller properties. But the town's large agricultural community fought back.

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Corral
Modfos / Dreamstime

Earlier this month, the town of Fort Ann, N.Y. was embroiled in controversy, the result of a local council member's failed attempt to pass a law that could have seriously curtailed small-scale farming in the town. Residents of the agricultural community turned out in droves to fight the proposal, which appears to have grown largely out of an ongoing personal dispute the councilor had with a neighbor.

According to public records in Fort Ann, Councilwoman Deborah Witherell first proposed the Ordinance Providing for the Regulation of Small Farm Operations in the Town of Fort Ann at an October 10 board meeting. It specifically singled out the smallest farmers in this agricultural community. Its language appears to be heavily biased toward aesthetic concerns. It sought to restrict livestock to properties larger than one acre. It would have created burdensome requirements for providing "adequate shelter" and corral space for livestock. It would have required "no less than daily" cleaning of all barns and shelters. It created new requirements for site plan approval. It would have imposed heavy fines of up to $3,000. And it would have expressly superseded all prior laws.

That includes, at least in part, the town's right-to-farm law, which the council adopted in 2007.

In New York State, many cities or towns have their own right-to-farm laws. The purpose of the law in Fort Ann, which bills itself as "an agricultural community," is clear.

"In order to maintain a viable farming economy in Fort Ann," reads, in part, the purpose and intent of the law, "it is necessary to limit the circumstances under which farming may be deemed to be a nuisance and to allow agricultural practices inherent to and necessary for the business of farming to proceed and be undertaken free of unreasonable and unwarranted interference or restriction."

The public hearing to discuss the proposed ordinance took place on Dec. 11. Callie Ginter, a reporter with The Post-Star who covered last week's board meeting and the events leading up to it, told me by phone this week that the hearing was contentious.

"The meeting was raw and real and people were passionate… and weren't going to hold back," Ginter says.

That reaction was predictable. In fact, one of Witherell's fellow board members predicted it.

"She realizes that people aren't going to be happy about this because Fort Ann is a farming community," reads a November 11 report by Fort Ann Council Supervisor Richard Moore, referring to Witherell and her proposal. "She has already been contacted by [a resident] that he is very upset about this. [He] asked Councilwoman Witherell if this came about because of one person specifically her neighbor. Councilwoman Witherell responded yes but she would be doing this regardless of whether it was a neighbor or not[.]"

When reached, neither Witherell nor Moore were willing to comment for this column.

The dispute between Witherell and her neighbor that spurred her to introduce the ordinance stems from claims earlier this year by the council member that manure on the neighbor's farm had likely contaminated her well with E. coli. She first sought to involve the New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in the matter. When the DEC balked at getting involved, Witherell sued the neighbor in civil court. The DEC then agreed over the summer to launch an investigation of the well contamination.

But the DEC investigation determined no further action was needed.

"DEC has been on-site multiple times regarding this complaint and no violations of the [state Environmental Conservation Law] have been documented," said the DEC in a statement emailed to me this week. "DEC will continue to monitor the situation and will act if a violation is documented."

While the story of the Fort Ann farming ordinance is a local one, it's also part of a larger story that's played out in cities in towns across the country, in which local lawmakers seek to use their position to advance their oftentimes-questionable judgment about the practices and merits of small-scale agriculture. It's also one on which I've focused many times.

The Fort Ann ordinance compares favorably to other awful crackdowns on small-scale agriculture and gardening around the country. There are so many cases around the country—from bans on gardening and raising egg-laying hens and tiny goats to an ongoing lawsuit against the city of Miami Shores, Fla. over its gardening ban, which I wrote about here recently—that I was able to fill up a whole chapter of my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, with examples of these lousy local restrictions.

Residents of Fort Ann are fortunate that they spoke up and fought back against what would have been a terrible deal for the smallest members of the town's agricultural community. Other communities around the country have not been so fortunate.

Local legislative efforts to thwart farming and gardening are quite real. I hope more communities take these threats seriously and respond to these threats like the residents of Fort Ann did this month.

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  1. “sorry, we checked and your neighbor isn’t violating the law.”

    “Well I’ll just write my own law! With blackjack! And hookers!”

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      1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time.

        With blackjack! And hookers!

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  2. “”The meeting was raw and real and people were passionate? and weren’t going to hold back,” Ginter says.”

    I love that: Sounds as if they threw “Robert’s Rules” in the trash can and got down to serious business.

    Wells that get e-coli…Hell, I was one of 6 on a well…a deep well….about 450 feet deep….that got e-coli, and there was no farming close by at all. We gave the well a shock treatment of a bleach mixture, and problem cured.

    1. I lived for 10 years on a place with a well, around 100ft deep.
      I never had any problem of foreign contaminates, but I always filtered anything that was going to be drank or cooked with. There’s always going to be something off-putting dissolved in well water.

      My big problem was rust in the water, and iron bacteria.

      I always wished I had put a chlorine injector and a large whole house filter on it to take care of those problems, but I never got around to it.

      If I ever do have a property on a well again, that’s the first thing I’m gonna do.

  3. Another one the same morning — another shining example of what monopolistic coercive power enables — crackpots who can’t get their way by logic or argument, who turn to government instead. All they have to do is get a little power and they can fling poo like the bestest chimpanzee bored in its cage.

    I despised government originally for its incompetence in Vietnam and post-Apollo NASA, and only later realized the relation of power and corruption. Stories like this just confirm my bias, over and over and over. Society would be so much better if government did not have the coercive power that attracts corruption and the monopoly power that attracts incompetence.

    Fuck off, slaver.

    1. Without the power to control the lives and property of others, there would be NO non-voluntary government. People give them this power by agreeing to be ruled, believing in the “authority” of some ruling others, and too often because they wish to control others themselves and government is a handy tool… no politician ever refused more power over others.

      The desire/compulsion to control the lives and property of others is the ROOT of all evil.

  4. Let’s hope that the good people of Fort Ann, NY, bounce that power-grubbing bitch off the council at their earliest opportunity.

    -jcr

  5. I’m not a fan of regulation, but I own a 90 acre ranch and I get to see people all around me who think they can raise horses, ponies or goats on tiny little plots less than one acre. It never goes well, and it’s cruel to the animals, who require much more space to live healthy lives. A chicken coop or a couple rabbit hutches is fine, but not larger livestock.

    1. I’m not a fan of regulation either, but most people make horrific financial decisions. I see people all around me who think they can raise children best on a middle class wage and debt to thier eyeballs. Maybe a dog, but not children, who deserve the very best there is to offer. I see it all the time, it never goes well, and my taxes supplement the mass stupidity. Clearly a China 1 child rule, if even that, is 100% appropriate. Or perhaps more appropriate, children only for the 1%; those that can truly provide the best of the best. Anything less is cruel.
      Oh the joys of imposing my opinions through violence, only when I’m a fan of it.

      1. I am not a fan of regulation either, but most people make terrible health decisions. Think about how many people are still smoking, or drinking more than they should. A couple of beers a week is fine, but no heavy liquor. It’s not only cruel to their loved ones, but we as a society have to carry the financial burden if they get sick.

        1. I am not a fan of regulation either but clearly every adult should get a government issued ration card for 2 beers a week, no more. Liquor should be banned outright. And smokers? Don’t even get me started. And those 99%ers out there making more than one kid should face a firing squad. Because they’re just a financial burden like retards and immigrants. But I’m no fan of regulation no siree. I’m a fucking libertarian. Fuck off slaver.

      2. Did I call for regulation in my post? No, I did not. I merely stated that the problem of livestock on very small plots of land is, in fact, a real one, with real consequences.

  6. I’m not a fan of regulation, but I own a 90 acre ranch and I get to see people all around me who think they can raise horses, ponies or goats on tiny little plots less than one acre. It never goes well, and it’s cruel to the animals, who require much more space to live healthy lives. A chicken coop or a couple rabbit hutches is fine, but not larger livestock.

    1. No one needs two 90 acre ranches!
      – Bernie

      1. But three houses is OK…

    2. I’d rather give people the freedom to make mistakes, then try to make every mistake illegal. There are already laws against cruelty to animals.

      Note this busybody control freak, is making it illegal for what you say (1 acre) is adequate. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t tell us how big the lots are, but I wouldn’t be surprised they are 1 acre lots, which makes the neighbor having a horse illegal.

  7. This had a great ending.
    But fuck that lady next door to me who has a bunch of chickens. There are so many f-in rats around our suburban home because of them.
    Last year I had to have an exterminator bomb the house due to mites. The guy was confused about where they came from, but when he saw the chickens next door, he was no longer confused.

    1. You should be able to sue her, if she is clearly the cause of your mites.

    2. Maybe SIV has some good advice on the best way to tackle chicken mites.

    3. You could always run for city council and pass an ordinance banning chickens. Mite problem solved!

    4. Or you could raise free-range weasels.

  8. Had they simply Collectivized the farms through asset forfeiture, and declared the owners Kulak felons stripped of all rights, those Yankees would be carrying the entire town Soviet around the courthouse on their shoulders, littering the streets with confetti shredded out of copies of the Second Amendment.

    1. Heck, Detroit essentially has done that via its Democrat government and its taxes. You can see the results: much of the property there has become worthless, and the productive have left for places where they are treated less like indentured tax slaves.

    2. except that has never happened, and never will, because it is impossible. the Pilgrims tried collective farming, almost starved, had Thanksgiving after the natives pulled their fat out of the fire, and then apportioned family lots for private ownership and management, and thrived. read history. it helps.

  9. so she took her coffee out on the patio, & caught a whiff of dairy farm, and now we’ve drained how many millions of dollars out of the economy?? ymbfkm.

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