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Town Board and Agricultural Advisory Committee meet to hash out concerns

The Southold Town Board and Agricultural Advisory Committee met in a joint work session Wednesday night to discuss the current code as it relates to farming.

On Tuesday, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the goal of the meeting was meant to create a framework moving forward to address questions and also as a way to look to the future, both at the needs of the agriculture industry as it changes and the challenges in meeting community goals. The supervisor was unable to attend the joint work session.

Town attorney Bill Duffy, at the start of the meeting, said the purpose was to see what the advisory committee wanted the Town Board to focus on and how to proceed.

At first, the discussion centered on suggested permitted uses that had been drafted by the committee based on agricultural definitions that were added to the code last April.

About 40 minutes into the meeting, the talk turned to processing — meaning anything made on a farm, such as jam or alcohol products and other items — and whether it should be permitted.

“If we are to keep up with today’s pressures, we need this,” committee member Mark VanBourgondien said of on-farm processing or manufacturing. “Without it we’re gonna fail. So it’s to what level we can go?”

Councilman Jim Dinizio said he wanted to “push that button” to learn what farms needed in terms of processing and what constitutes processing. “We’re moving away from the card table with the garden stuff on it,” he said. “How far does that go before we start saying that these things are restaurants?”

Advisory committee member Karen Rivara suggested that there be public listening sessions where the farm community at large and the public could weigh in and get a sense of what people want.

“Tell me what it is that’s going to keep you all in business,” Mr. Dinizio said.

That can be a moving target, Mr. Van Bourgondien said.

“It gets really difficult because the new business models that the younger generations are coming up with are something we have never even thought of,” he said. “It’s really hard to tell you what we need.”

Members of the agricultural community, including several winery owners and representatives, listened in. Advisory committee members, when asked if the farming industry all over the country is facing difficulties, mentioned how small farms are hurting.

The bottom line, committee member Doug Cooper said, is that agriculture needs the flexibility in the code to change and adapt for the future and to keep up with new ideas.

“Part of the frustration is because, ‘It’s not written in the code, it’s not allowed,’ where if somebody comes in with a different business model it would be nice to say, ‘Okay, this is not in the code, let’s sit down and see what we can do to make you succeed,” Mr. Van Bourgondien added. “That‘s the kind of change all the way down the base that we need to help the industry survive.”

Councilman Bill Ruland said that there is a conflict between the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law, which he said changes all the time, and the town code.

“The whole reason why the ag advisory committee is here before the Town Board is because we’d rather have consensus at home than have to go to Ag & Markets and drag that whole thing back in an adversarial situation,” Committee chairman Chris Baiz said. “I think we as a community would be far better off to get that done locally.”

The next step in the discussion will be to follow up on the suggestion of holding listening sessions with the agricultural community.

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