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Peterborough residents have their say on cattle grazing 

  • Stan Fry at Tuesday night’s Peterborough Select Board meeting. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Stan Fry talks about his plan to graze cattle on town-owned land at a highly attended Peterborough Select Board hearing Tuesday night.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • The Peterborough Select Board meeting Tuesday night overflowed with residents there for a discussion about proposed cattle grazing in a field off Cheney Avenue. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Richard Fernald and his son Mark Fernald wait for a Peterborough Select Board meeting to start Tuesday night.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Stan Fry talks about his proposal to graze cattle on conservation land during a Peterborough Select Board meeting Tuesday night.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • The Peterborough Select Board Tuesday night was overflowing with residents during a discussion about proposed cattle grazing in a field off Cheney Avenue. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Peggy Van Valkenburgh of Cheney Avenue presents the Peterborough Select Board with a petition opposing a cattle grazing proposal during a Tuesday night board meeting.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Peterborough residents talk about a proposal to graze cattle on town-owned land at a Select Board meeting Tuesday. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Peterborough residents talk about a proposal to graze cattle on town-owned land at a Select Board meeting Tuesday. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Maceo Arnone, 3, of Peterborough keeps himself occupied on the steps inside the Peterborough Town House Tuesday night while his father attends an overflowing Select Board meeting that was discussing possible cattle grazing on town conservation land.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A meeting room in the Peterborough Town Hall overflowed with people who came out on Tuesday night to hear a local businessman’s proposal to place cattle on a piece of town-owned conservation land.

Stan Fry is asking the town’s permission to use about 20 acres of land, located near Cheney Avenue and Old Street Road, which was placed into conservation about 30 years ago to graze his cattle. A tentative 15-year lease has been discussed by town officials. If approved, Fry said he would likely start with five cows although he thinks the land could eventually support about 20 animals.

The land is managed by the Conservation Commission, which has the final authority to approve or deny Fry’s request. Select Board Chairwoman Barbara Miller said the Select Board will act as an advisory board to the Conservation Commission while it considers the request. She emphasized the meeting was held to collect information.

Conservation Commission Co-Chair Francie Von Mertens said the group has never had a request like this, calling it “unprecedented.”

“So we’re going to be learning as we go,” she said.

The proposal has become rather divisive in town. Miller said the town received 23 letters prior to Tuesday’s meeting, some in favor and others in opposition to the proposal. The comments were transferred onto large pieces of paper and read during the meeting. Some considerations on the board read, “benefits of rotational grazing, assistance to pollinators,” and “increased support of local agriculture.” Some concerns included, “intent of land use remain recreational/ unchanged, limits public accessibility,” and “impact on wildlife and ecosystem.”

A petition against the cattle-grazing proposal that was signed by more than 200 people was presented to the board.

Proposal

Fry said during the meeting that he owns hundreds of acres of land in Peterborough and Dublin, some of which his cattle graze on. 

“Just so it’s clear to everybody, I actually have a lot of grass. I’ll probably have more grass than I need this year. So I’m not trying to do this because I'm needing the land as much as I would really like to accomplish something on this piece of land,” Fry said.

He said he would be using techniques like rotational grazing that the town could use to market itself as a “green” area.

“I thought that this was a great opportunity for Peterborough to be sort of a leader in agriculture,” Fry said.  

Fry developed an interest in farming techniques after he experienced a health issue stemming from a mineral deficiency. His wife bought him a book about magnesium deficiency and as he dove into the topic he learned that soils have been stripped of many nutrients because of modern farming practices.

“Foods like broccoli that provided most of those minerals have actually 60 percent less of those minerals than what they once did because we have just farmed our land to the point where it has no more nutrients,” Fry said during the meeting. “So I’m really interested in creating nutrient-rich soil.”

Fry said he walked the parcel of land off Cheney Avenue earlier this month with members of the Conservation Committee and realized the land was in worse condition than he thought.

“As I walked the piece of property with them, I was surprised at how poor the condition of some of the fields were. There are places where the grass can hardly grow, there are some invasive weeds coming,” he said, adding that there were areas in the field that have developed sinkholes that “are quite dangerous.”

Fry said bringing the field up to a standard needed to place cattle on it would cost about $50,000. He said the grass on the field is probably worth anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per year when it’s healthy.

“I’m not going to be alive to recoup my investment in doing this,” Fry said. “I really just think it’s a great thing for our community to do.”

Conservation land

The piece of land in discussion was given to the town through a fundraising effort by neighbors.

Von Mertens said a federal grant geared toward recreational resources was also secured during the process. She said the grant has a stipulation that nothing can impede access to the Wheeler Trail, which is located on the parcel. She said Fry’s proposal has been amended and won’t affect access to the trail. Von Mertens said it’s possible that there’s a similar encumbrance on the field though, although that’s not clear yet. 

“We are pursuing that,” she said.

Richard Ferland, who once resided on Cheney Avenue, spearheaded the fundraising effort in the 1980s. Mark Fernald, Richard’s son, spoke on behalf of his parents during Tuesday’s meeting.

“The neighborhood preserved this field from development,” Mark said. “It was owned by a developer and they bought it from a developer in 1984 that happened because of my father.”

He said the intent of those efforts “was for the land to be available for public recreation in the neighborhood and the town.”

“And that’s how it’s been used for 31 years,” he said.

Mark said the issue is not really whether Fry could improve this piece of land, but whether it makes sense to let a private citizen use public land.

“The dangerous precedent is that people won’t want to give land to the town again because they can’t be assured that it will remain public,” Mark said. 

He said the Conservation Commission manages other parcels of land in town, too.

“Are we going to see all of the town’s lands turn into private agriculture and exclude the public from public land?” he said. 

Mixed reactions

Carl Staley, who lives on Orchard Hill Road, said the Conservation Committee and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire’s Forests has been monitoring the field for the 30 years it has been in conservation.

“The latest walk with the steward from the forest society walked this field and said it’s in complete compliance,” Staley said in response to Fry’s comment about the condition of the land.

He said a 2015 New Hampshire Fish and Game map indicates that a section of the filed is “in the highest biological region.” He said that means it’s in the top 30 percentile for habitat.

“So it’s hardly degraded to the extent Mr. Fry suggested,” Staley said.

A question surfaced during the meeting regarding if there was a correlation between Fry’s proposal to raise cattle on the piece of conservation land and a proposal to build a net-zero emission community, or an agrihood, in the stone barn off of Old Street Road.

Fry told the Ledger-Transcript that a woman named Amelia Tracy has expressed interest in using the stone barn to build a farm-to-table lifestyle community aimed at restoring ecosystems and building community resilience.

Fry, who co-owns the stone barn, said “we’re not going to benefit financially” from the proposal. He said they may be able to recoup the costs of fixing the structure, but the intent is not to make money.

When asked if he intends to sell any of his beef at a store that could be built in the barn, Fry said, “I’ve never talked to [Tracy] about that.” He said the meat is so lean that he’s cautious to sell it commercially. During the meeting, Fry said the meat is mostly given to friends and family.

Others spoke in favor of the project during the meeting.

Sarah Steinberg-Heller said she’s lived in town on-and-off for 10 years. She’s been to many town meetings where people try to stymie change.

“I’m one of the younger people here, there are a few people my age and there are some kids here and stuff, but there’s a lot of older people here and I’m going to be here when you’re not,” she said. “And I want to live in a town that’s open to innovation and open to some change and growth and maybe things aren’t always the same as they were. That’s a real concern for me.”