Towns can protect and promote farming by incorporating strong supportive statements about farming, agricultural considerations, ways of addressing agricultural threats, and proactive strategies for retaining farms and protecting farmland in the community’s comprehensive plan and its open space plan.
Comprehensive plans describe a town’s vision for the future, set policies and goals, and establish short and long-term implementation strategies. Because the comprehensive plan is the document to which town land use ordinances are referenced and legally tied, they can serve as a catalyst for sustaining local agriculture. As such, they can be an important starting point for towns looking to support local farms.
Comprehensive plans should identify not only the contributions of local farms to rural character, scenery, and historical significance, but should also capture the full range of benefits that farms bring to a community. They can also identify specific steps a town can take to address the needs of local farms and farmers.
See examples of comprehensive plans that support agriculture and related guidance documents:
Open Space Plans
Communities experiencing rapid growth or with limited area often develop an open space or working lands plan to identify areas of the town that should have special land use considerations or remain undeveloped. Some open space plans overlook farmland protection, focusing instead on land for recreational uses and habitat protection. However, open space plans present an opportunity to highlight the importance of – and threats to – the farmland base. An open space plan can lay the groundwork for implementation of proactive policies and strategies for retaining farms and farmland. An open space plan can also identify land not currently used for agriculture production, but with good potential for farming. This will help expand access to farmland and facilitate new farming opportunities.
Here are some ways towns can protect farmland through their open space or working lands plans:
- Involve farmers in the planning process, as well as local and regional land trusts that are facilitating farmland protection projects.
- Consider creating an agricultural commission (if one is not already established) to help with the plan.
- Distinguish working farm and forestlands from other types of open space, and describe their economic and environmental benefits.
- Inventory active agricultural land and farm soils of prime and statewide importance. Ask farmers to identify farmland they consider important to their farm operations.
- Develop a map that shows the community’s most important farmland resources.
- Outline clear goals and strategies to protect farmland in the community.
See examples of open space plans that protect farmland and related guidance documents:
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