Farm bureau looks to open dialogue with Town Board

Long Island Farm Bureau members met with Southold Town Board members Tuesday to open lines of communication about the ever-changing local agricultural community and legislation that might affect it.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty invited the farm bureau to a work session after the group reached out to the Town Board following last month’s cancellation a public hearing on proposed updates to special events legislation.

“This is a start to find out what their concerns are,” Ms. Doherty said.

Farm bureau president Karl Novak, who manages Half Hollow Nursery in Laurel, said the farming industry is “kind of in disarray at this point.”

Today, some farmers are surviving, while others are trying to find ways to be remain economically viable, whether it’s by planting a specialty crop or adding more processing, marketing and retail to their operations, Mr. Novak said.

“As agriculture has evolved, the code has probably not evolved as quickly,” he said. The farm bureau, as a representative of local farmers, wants the Town Board to understand the issues they face.

“It’s been so long since we’ve revisited it,” said Mark Van Bourgondien, a farm bureau board member and a member of the town’s agricultural advisory committee.

The agriculture business requires the ability to adapt and change quickly, he said, and farmers can’t survive without that.

Changing business models is a challenge that farmers in other places, such as the Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes, are also dealing with, Mr. Novak said later.

“We need your help to allow us to adapt to the next generation’s problems,” Mr. Van Bourgondien said.

Priorities of the agricultural advisory committee had shifted from definitions to a different goal, which was codification of the committee, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. The Town Board relies on committees to lay out priorities, he said.

Some Town Board members said they want to understand where the line is drawn between farming and other appropriate commercial uses on farms. Special events, such as weddings, came up as an example.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said the town’s responsiblity is health, safety and welfare of residents. It’s a concern when there are “wedding venues in a residential zone,” with music played at night and guests parking in a residential zone.

The town receives applications for special events at farms that are unrelated to what farms grow or sell, Mr. Russell said. Mr. Russell said he believes there is a code in place that can mitigate those concerns.

“Some people say, ‘We need special events to farm,’” Mr. Russell said. “Some need special events so they don’t have to keep farming.”

Councilman William Ruland, a farmer himself, said the discussion with the farming community has to be ongoing, but as Mr. Dinizio mentioned, the Town Board must also consider the health, safety and welfare of the town as a whole.

“We’re committed to working with you,” Mr. Novak said. “We want to open the dialogue and improve what we can improve on.”

Photo caption: From left, Long Island Farm Bureau members Steve Mudd, Anthony Sannino, Karl Novak and Mark Van Bourgondien (not pictured) met with the Southold Town Board at Tuesday’s work session. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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