Agriculture uses 31 percent of the land and accounts for nearly 25 percent of the economic revenue generated in Southold Town, so it’s little surprise that the agricultural chapter of the town’s new comprehensive plan emphasizes what can be done to help protect farming.
This week the town will hold two community input sessions on the agriculture chapter, which was released last week.
The first is on Saturday, April 28, at 10 a.m. at the Peconic Community Center on Peconic Lane. The second is Monday, April 30, at 7 p.m. at the Human Resource Center on Pacific Street in Mattituck.
“Not everyone recognizes that agriculture comes in many forms, so we feel it is important to educate the public about both the importance of agriculture to Southold, and the fact that agriculture isn’t just about scenic views across farm fields,” said Planning Board member Martin Sidor, a farmer who was the lead Planning Board member working on the chapter. “Some grow crops in greenhouses, some under water, and all are involved in a business that is challenging and difficult. We worked with the local farmers to come up with realistic and necessary goals for the Town relating to agriculture.”
The draft chapter calls on the town stop requiring site plan review for certain agricultural structures, such as hoop houses and high row covers, which are currently considered structures under the town code. It also asks the town to consider increasing the maximum lot coverage for greenhouses from the current limit of 20 percent of the land.
“Agriculture is still a fundamental component of the economic base of this community.” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “Further, it is a fundamental part of the culture of the community we know as Southold. We look forward to hearing from the community as we look to develop a balanced plan that addresses the needs of this vital industry and blend those needs with the over-riding needs of the town.”
The chapter also calls for allowing large-scale on-farm processing of value-added products, like pies, preserves, alcohol and potato chips.
“Being able to convert a crop into a value-added product may be essential to agriculture’s future success as a business in Southold,” reads the draft chapter.
The draft also asks the town to consider allowing marketing activities on land for which development rights have been sold.
The draft also suggests that the town actively enforce the state’s “Right to Farm” law. Though the town code was amended in 1997 to include the state’s farmers’ bill of rights, “certain provisions of this law … may need some promotion and awareness,” according to the document.
For example, real estate brokers could be required to give a copy of the farmland bill of rights to new homeowners who have purchased property next door to a farm.
Among other protections, the bill of rights allows farmers to operate farming equipment, use pesticides and other crop protections and sell commodities produced on-site directly to customers at the farm.
The chapter also calls for a program to connect new farmers with owners of fallow land. It estimates there are 2,000 acres of fallow farmland in Southold. About a third of that land has been “fallow long enough to have small cedars and brush” growing on it, while the rest is likely being rested by farmers in between production cycles.
The report suggests that Cornell Cooperative Extension could work with the town and landowners to encourage long-term leases of fallow land.
It also calls for a “buy local” promotional campaign and encouraging schools and other local institutions to buy local fruits and vegetables.
“We began with the plans the town already had in place relating to agriculture, and built the chapter up from there, using our agricultural advisory committee, land preservation committees, and local farmers as sounding boards,” said planning director Heather Lanza.
More information on the ag chapter is available at: http://southoldtown.northfork.net/Planning/Southold%202020/2020PubComment.htm