Guest post by Ann Larkin Hansen
When we bought our farm in the early ’90s, we were too ignorant about rural living to worry whether a large cattle feedlot, a stock car racetrack, or other incompatible neighbors might move in next door. We’re lucky: Our neighbors are still wetlands and lake cabins, and things will probably stay that way.
A lot of farmers aren’t so lucky. In my years of working as a farm reporter and serving on our township’s planning commission, I’ve seen a lot of problems connected with land-use issues, from atrazine contamination of wells due to heavy pesticide use, to odor issues caused by large swine and poultry operations, to noise and light issues from frac sand mining and trucking. And there are a lot more operations looking for places to build in the country: “adult” entertainment, prisons, landfills, industrial plants, and housing developments filled with folks who object when you spread manure or have to run machinery late in the evening to complete a harvest.
Fortunately, land-use regulations allow a county or township to protect itself, for the most part, from land uses that injure or offend the current residents. Unfortunately, many townships and counties haven’t put good regulations in place and are caught by surprise when this makes them a target for CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) or other new neighbors who might not be a good fit for the neighborhood.
So, if you’re looking at land to buy, I highly recommend that you:
- Check out what land-use regulations are in place at both the county and township level, and also ask about what sort of changes might happen in the future. A lot of county and town websites now have their ordinances online; if not, call or stop by their office and ask to see them.
- Ask if there’s a Comprehensive Planning document for the area; this will tell you what’s expected to happen in the next twenty years or so in terms of road building and upgrades, power line corridors, residential development, and industrial development.
- Also look for other clues about your potential neighbors. Ask how many high-capacity wells have been drilled in recent years—these are used for large-scale agriculture. An increase in requests for driveway and building permits indicates a rise in residential development.
The land-use ordinances will also tell you what you will and won’t be allowed to do on the property you’re thinking of buying. If you’re planning on-farm sales or an agri-tourism enterprise, make sure that these activities are allowed. (I knew a couple who gradually built an on-farm greenhouse and nursery operation into a thriving business only to be told that they had exceeded what was allowed in their township. They had to shut down.)
It’s important to understand that there are three types of land-use regulation that are employed to regulate what and how landowners can use their land.
(1) Licensing and Nuisance Ordinances
The first type are called Licensing and Nuisance ordinances, and these are still quite often the only type found in rural townships. Licensing and nuisance ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on land; they can only set rules, within reason, for how an activity is done, such as hours of operation.
And, as with all ordinances, the rules don’t apply if the establishment—say a gambling casino—was built before the ordinance was passed.
(2) Land Division Ordinances
The second type of land-use regulation are Land Division ordinances. These regulate how land can be divided for future development and may govern such items as whether a parcel must have road access, a good building site, and appropriate soils and space for a septic system. In our township, for example, we’ve written ordinances that require a minimum lot size of 2.5 acres and road access that meets state standards regarding distance from intersections and other driveways.
As with licensing and nuisance ordinances, land division ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on a piece of property, they only establish minimum requirements for development.
Only the third type of ordinance, Zoning, regulates what can be done on property. It’s kind of a double-edged sword: Zoning ordinances, for the most part, protect you from injurious or obnoxious neighbors; they also limit what you are allowed to do on your own land. For this reason, “zoning” has become a dirty word in many rural areas since the thought of not being able to do whatever you want in your own private kingdom seems to trump the thought of someday having a casino next door. Too often, it seems, rural townships refuse to even consider zoning until something awful to live next door to comes to the area, and then it’s too late. In the last ten years, mining for frac sand has exploded in our area, causing a big scramble by area townships to get any regulation they can in place. Many of these efforts haven’t been successful.
Zoning works by establishing districts for different land uses, so incompatible uses, like a huge dairy operation, aren’t built next to residential subdivisions. In rural areas, zoning may include districts for farming, residential, recreational, industrial, and commercial use.
It’s important to look over the definitions of the districts since these vary considerably. Some zoning ordinances are quite detailed and regulate right down to what is allowed for things like fence height, while others are pretty minimalist.
There’s one further twist to land-use regulation. In some instances, such as wetland protection, state or federal regulations have been put in place, which override any local ordinances. In this case, counties and towns can’t override state and federal regulations, so it’s a good idea to ask at the county level what type of state and federal land-use regulations might affect the land you wish to acquire.
Ann Larkin Hansen is a farmer and author whose books include “The Organic Farming Manual,” “Finding Good Farmland,” “A Landowner’s Guide to Managing Your Woods” (with certified master logger Mike Severson and consulting forester Dennis Waterman), “Making Hay,” and “Electric Fencing,” all from Storey Publishing.
This week, we learned that our Operations Manager, Leanna Mulvihill, was selected to receive student loan forgiveness by New York State. Leanna is starting her own livestock operation this year and will now be able to invest her savings in lambs and pigs instead of student loan payments. This is exactly the kind of impact that we’re working to achieve with #FarmingIsPublicService - to help young people manage their student debt while getting a farm operation off the ground. Campaign updates to come!
In this March newsletter, you’ll hear directly from Leanna, meet NYFC’s newest chapter, get an update on Western water and see a listing of events across the nation. (more…)
When I switched from working on farms to starting our own farm, I also needed to transition from wearing glasses to peering through a telescope. By which I mean to say that I need to look further down the line in order to run a farm than I ever did as a farm laborer. I know that is not a surprising, groundbreaking insight to any of you reading this blog, but that “zoom” is the most significant perspective that I have gained this year.
For instance, let’s talk customers as the best example of the long view. This first season we started small because we were uncertain of our market base. That was a good, safe idea that afforded us the opportunity to analyze the customer response to our farm and explore the area needs that were not being met. However, because we started with such conservative numbers, we now have only 25 pounds of pork to sell for the next 6 months.
Many days this summer began with Anna, Joseph and myself tumbling out of our little red Mazda pickup into the field around 7 am, and beginning the morning’s tasks. Soon after, another red truck – this time a 90’s model Tacoma – would drive through the open gate in the deer fence around our field and our flower farmer friend Courtney would emerge. Her business partner Jamie would also often show up within the hour. They would start filling square plastic containers with water from the well, and soon after they’d be filled with cut flowers of all sizes and colors. (more…)
The USDA has announced that they are extending the deadline for applying to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year! If could use extra funding for on-farm conservation, CSP is the program for you. You now have until March 13th (the original deadline was today, February 27th).
What is CSP?
CSP is a working lands program run by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). It provides funding for farmers to take on conservation activities while simultaneously farming the land. For farmers that care about the environment, this program is a great way to receive help funding projects that improve soil, air, and water quality; increase water quantity, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity; or decrease soil erosion. (more…)
Last week the National Young Farmers Coalition hosted our first Young Farmer Winter Supper at Wythe Hotel. We met over a hundred of incredible like-minded people devoted to promoting NYFC’s cause and mission.
Click here for some great images of the event to get a sense of what was shared that evening at the Winter Supper.
We would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to once again thank all of our generous sponsors –Etsy, Stonyfield Farm and Wythe Hotel — who believed that NYFC could host an event of this kind. We would not have had the resources to embark on the Winter Supper without their initial faith in us.
The Bootstrap Dairy Farmer Videos are finally here!
In 2013, five young women chronicled their experiences of starting dairy farms on our Bootstrap Blog. In the long-awaited final installment of the series, three of the women take us to their farms in short films. Watch now and see how these women overcome icy temps, broken tractors, early mornings and a tough farm sector. Films are produced by Farm Run Media and sponsored by Stonyfield. You can check out all three at NYFC’s video hub, or click below to watch each one directly.
See Sarah Chase of Chaseholm Farm transition her family’s dairy to a grass-fed herd.
Starting a farm is no easy path, and overcoming financial obstacles is a huge part of the high risk of failure. New farmers often come up against high costs of land and equipment, just a couple of the many barriers to entry. If our generation is to successfully continue the American agricultural legacy, we need to work together to find solutions.
Check out this great piece from Lilia McFarland at the USDA about facing financial challenges in starting a farming career, just published on the USDA blog.
Lilia is the USDA’s New Farmer and Rancher Coordinator, and we’re thrilled to be working closely with her and others at the USDA to figure out ways of better connecting beginning farmers and ranchers everywhere to USDA programs and services. At NYFC we’ve brought new farmers to Washington, DC repeatedly to give testimony and brainstorm ways to further support our members, and we’re glad to know that Lilia and the USDA are continuing to focus on addressing these problems. (more…)
In our first monthly update of the year, we have lots of news to share from our snowbound headquarters in Hudson, NY: new staff, new board members, new advisors, and a new guidebook! We also have updates on #FarmingIsPublicService, a rundown of events and conferences, and a reminder about our money-saving member benefits as you order your seeds and supplies.
Over the past six months, NYFC has added some incredible individuals to our roster of staff, board members and advisors – and we aren’t done yet. Please join us in welcoming our newest teammates: staff members Leanna Mulvihill and Derek Denckla; board members Brian Depew, Clayton Harvey, Jacqueline Lewin and Nicole Shore; and advisory council members Mark Justh, Michel Nischan, Andrew Rotherham and Karen Washington. Welcome to our team!
Derek Denckla joined NYFC as our Deputy Director of Investments and Partnerships. Derek comes to the organization with experience as an impact investor, community organizer and social entrepreneur. He founded and led Slow Money NYC, North East Foodshed Finance Alliance and initiated Foodshed Investors NY, the first angel investor network in the US funding small, local and sustainable food business. He has provided consulting and private equity to projects like Egg Restaurant in New York City, Windowfarms, Mouth.com, Red Hook Community Farm, Local Farms Fund and Blue Marble Ice Cream. Through 2010, Derek ran a green real estate development company that built Greenbelt, Brooklyn’s first LEED Gold project. Derek holds a JD from Fordham University and a BA from Columbia University. (more…)