Agricultural Preservation
Case Study

Town of Dartmouth
Agricultural Commission

The Town of Dartmouth, located in Southeastern Massachusetts, is a diverse community with a mix of landscapes including suburban housing, heavily developed commercial corridors, historic structures, coastal neighborhoods, and over 3,000 acres of active farmland. The community boasts the oldest Agricultural Commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which was formed in 1988.

Farm in DartmouthSuccess Stories

Responsibilities assumed by the Commission in Dartmouth have varied in response to the changing needs of the local farming community. One of their greatest success stories began with a strong public outreach effort in the late 1990's in response to significant areas of farmland potentially being sold for development. These areas, known in the community as Island View and Dartmoor Farms, represent a tremendous open space and aesthetic resource for the community. The result of the outreach efforts by the Commission included a 2.75 million dollar override at the Town election and the formation of the Agricultural Preservation Trust Council to administer this funding. Funding from the override was used to match other state-level sources and funds raised from partial sale of the property toward placing an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) on most of the land. Other agencies that have contributed to preservation efforts in the community include The Trustees of Reservation, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the APR Program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Since the APR was acquired on the Island View and Dartmoor parcels, the community has successfully created other APRs including the 22-acre Rider Farm and the 113-acre King Farm.

Rock wall in Dartmouth. Other Responsibilities

Aside from land acquisition and preservation, the Dartmouth Agricultural Commission has played the lead role in several key areas of farmland operation. From a regulatory standpoint, the Commission authored Massachusetts' first Right-to-Farm Bylaw and has authored several Rules and Regulations for the local Board of Health relative to animal husbandry practices in the Town. These regulatory efforts have helped to clarify the protections afforded farmers in Dartmouth and have made local regulations consistent with state law. Another critical role assumed by the Commission is to mediate disputes between farmers and abutters. These efforts have been extremely effective in resolving conflicts without costly and contentious litigation between residents and have continually promoted healthy community relationships between farmers and neighbors.

Lessons Learned

In working with many communities to establish agricultural commissions, it has become clear that these Commissions should not be formed to simply address one particular farm. Rather, there needs to be community-wide support and a broad mandate for agriculture and farms. Otherwise once the particular problem is solved, the Commission can flounder. By serving as an expert resource, a Commission can provide critical guidance to other town boards and commissions on any agriculture-related issue. Many members also have received training as mediators.