Amendment M offers agricultural viability for farms

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Much-needed zoning adjustments could be in the future for Peterborough farms and farmers in the Rural District if voters pass Amendment M on the town’s upcoming voting day. Amendment M, a citizen-submitted petition on the May 13 ballot, would allow our local farmers to diversify their businesses to include farm-to-table dinners, open houses, seasonal tours and festivities, small scale farm-based direct sales, and farm stays, all of which would strengthen the sustainability of their farms.

This zoning adjustment will enable farmers the opportunity to offer artisanal and prepared foods, cooking classes or workshops. With farmers needing to diversify in a tough economic climate, the allowance of these potential conditional uses would be a boon to their bottom line. This zoning amendment will require local control to ensure town character is maintained. Planning Board oversight will be required through the Conditional Use Permit that will limit size and scope of these uses, require increased setbacks, sufficient buffers and screening, and create a public process that will allow other reasonable conditions to be required or waived.

Chris Caserta, owner of family business Walpole Valley Farms and the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, operates a working model of how the adjustment to the zoning can benefit our local farmers. “Even with the sudden increase in local food and agriculture, it is still quite difficult and not entirely profitable to maintain open space, raise animals and provide food for the community,” says Chris. “Some of the zoning allowances in the petition are what we engage in on a regular basis, and it is exactly these activities that will enable us to become profitable. The merging of farm and non-farm activities over the past 10 years or so in New Hampshire continues to gain momentum locally. If allowed and done well, we feel that it will continue to strengthen the bonds between people, the land and therefore the community, and what we as New Hampshire citizens hold dear to us all, enjoying open spaces.”

Todd Horner of Walkabout Farm in Peterborough adds, “Amendment M recognizes that small, diversified farms, in addition to producing healthful food, can provide a variety of services that promote both the economic sustainability of local agriculture and the vitality of our community’s rural economy. The proposed land uses, which include farm dinners, small farm retail spaces and accommodations related to agricultural tourism, provide opportunities for small farmers like me to connect directly with the public and develop long-lasting farm enterprises.”

The passing of Amendment M on May 13 would benefit the Peterborough community at large, not only with an increase of commerce, but also the preservation of historic New Hampshire traditions. Sheri St. Laurent of East Hill Farm in Troy comments, “The Inn at East Hill Farm was a dairy farm that was transformed into a farm with a boarding house and then to a vacation destination on a farm. Our guests travel to Troy to spend time experiencing the farm and New Hampshire’s natural resources. Our guests bring revenue that is beneficial to our town and surrounding towns in the form of monies spent at local businesses and taxes paid. In addition to the collective monetary benefits of the sustainability of any farm, there are also the priceless aesthetic and spiritual benefits of allowing farms to thrive.”

Carrie Dumas lives in Peterborough.

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