Town of Amherst
The Town of Amherst has been incredibly successful in preserving large amounts of its working farmland through a variety of techniques. The Town has taken a comprehensive approach to ensuring that agriculture remains a vital and important sector throughout the community. A number of tools and techniques have played a role in this success, particularly
- the Agricultural Land Preservation (APR) Program
- allowing more flexibility for accessory uses like farm stands
- supporting a farmers market and community gardens
- using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- requiring cluster subdivisions in the Farmland Conservation Overlay District
- The Town, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, drafted a farmland preservation plan. By identifying valuable farms and working with the Commonwealth and with willing land owners, 34 farms totaling over 2,000 acres have been permanently protected from development.
- The Town has purchased parcels of farmland as conservation land or received them as gifts and now rent them out to local farmers, including:
- a group of Cambodian immigrants, who mostly live in apartments, allowing them the opportunity to farm.
- Matching funds for state agricultural preservation restriction (APR) purchases have come from Town appropriations, the Community Preservation Act, and local land trusts.
- In one case, the Brookfield Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the Town purchased the APR without state assistance at a "bargain sale" price made possible by the generosity of the owners. Under the APR program the farms remain in private ownership and in active agricultural production, but the potential for development is gone.
- The Town has allowed the farmers market to use the central town common and the conservation commission administers five different community gardens.
- By adopting less restrictive regulations than the state's on certain accessory uses, Amherst has been able to encourage and facilitate uses like farm stands and seasonal restaurants that support the primary farming operation and bring in additional income.
- Amherst was an early leader in developing a local Geographic Information System (GIS) that identifies all parcels in Town, including all farmland. The database identifies acreage, ownership, and many other attributes of each parcel.
- Amherst has developed a zoning provision to protect important farms-the Farmland Conservation Overlay District. This bylaw requires that any development within the district be clustered, thereby preserving the most important agricultural soils. There has been one farmland conservation development to date- Barkowski Meadows. On the 35 acre parcel, 23 contiguous acres were permanently protected. Seventeen building lots were created and 14 houses have been built. The site is adjacent to the North Amherst Community Farm, an APR-protected CSA farm.
Town of Dartmouth
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.
- 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 included a $2.75 million 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 APR on most of the land.
- 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.
There needs to be community-wide support and a broad mandate for agriculture and farms. 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. Responsibilities of the Dartmouth Agricultural Commission include:
- Mediating disputes between farmers and abutters
- Authoring several Rules and Regulations for the local Board of Health relative to animal husbandry practices in the Town
Somerville Community Growing Center, Somerville, MA
The City of Somerville is one of the most densely populated cities in the nation with close to 80,000 people in just over four square miles. This highly urbanized environment came at the expense of residential green space that can be used for gardens. Local initiatives in the city established the Somerville Community Growing Center (SCGC). These gardens are managed by volunteer Garden Coordinators who:
- assign plots on a first-come first-served basis
- help gardeners get seeds and compost
- provide information and advice
The SCGC is located on a ¼-acre parcel and has become much more than a community garden, offering both educational and cultural performance programs.
The SCGC offers a wide array of activity and learning choices such as:
- an orchard for picking fruit,
- a labyrinth for walks,
- an amphitheater and stage for performances,
- a pond and stream that contain fish
- herb and vegetable gardens.
Providing exposure to environmentally respectful practices is also an important aspect of the Growing Center. Solar panels located throughout the garden provide energy for lighting the barn and pumping the fountain and stream. A washwater garden recycles the water used during handwashing to feed a garden. All gardening is organic and complementary plantings are used to encourage healthy growth.
Unlike a traditional community garden where one plot is managed by one family during the season, the equivalent of eight gardening plots serves multiple groups, all in the same space, throughout the change of seasons. Over 50 adults actively participate in some aspect of the garden. One of the major accomplishments of the Center is the large number of participants who have gone on to develop their own gardens based on their Growing Center experience, whether at home or at another community garden plot in the city.
The range of produce varies from year to year, but the fruit sampler list typically includes:
- various berries like blackberries and rasberries
Vegetables varieties include:
- cucumbers, garlic
- hearty greens
- hot peppers
Some of the more unusual varieties have been:
- chives, many kinds of mint
Each season, the Center gives away hundreds of tomato plants to gardeners as well as making limited free seeds available. Excess produce ranging from tomatoes to maple syrup have gone to local food pantries over the years. A new tradition is the Somerville Syrup Pancake Breakfast that serves as a fund raiser for the Center, while giving the public a chance to taste local maple syrup.
Environmental and Community Education:
The SCGC provides a hands-on learning environment for Somerville youths to learn about the natural world, science, community service and cultural issues. After school programs are offered during the fall and spring, and there is a spring vacation camp offered in conjunction with local elementary schools.
A full season of concerts and other events are scheduled at the SCGC, which contains a small amphitheater. These events are free and open to the public. Summer events include:
- Art in the Garden
- the Somerville Summer Theater Project
- Stonescape Painting
- Storytelling for Adults
- musical concerts
- art exhibitions
- dance performances
Montgomery County, Maryland
Montgomery County, Maryland lies adjacent to Washington D.C. Most of northern Montgomery County was characterized by rural landscapes with vast expanses of open space, meadow, and farmland. To preserve the character of existing rural areas, local decision makers adopted a rural preservation plan and changed its agricultural zoning density from one housing unit per two acres to one housing unit per five acres. Although this curbed the density of development in the region, it did little to curb the pace of development and the subsequent loss of open space and agricultural lands. After careful consideration, the county instituted a TDR program.
The Sending Area:
To establish the TDR program, a 110,000-acre area, called the Agricultural Reserve, was established and over 90,000 acres in this Reserve were rezoned to a Rural Density Transfer Zone (RDTZ). After rezoning, density in the RDTZ was limited to one unit per 25 acres for development. This density provided an obvious disincentive to building on sending sites, but the program provides other incentives that protect the economic investment of local farmers. If these landowners choose to enter into the TDR process, the density that they can transfer reverts back to the original one unit per five acres. This provides a significant incentive to participate in the TDR program and unique opportunity to preserve farmland. In return for this increase in development potential, farmers place a permanent deed restriction on the land precluding it from future development.
The Receiving Area:
The County also identified specific receiving areas as part of the TDR program. These areas are appropriate for higher density development because they are readily served by essential public services such as transportation, wastewater and public water supply. Receiving areas were also rezoned and assigned two densities: a baseline density for developers who have not acquired TDRs, and, a higher development density for those who have. For example, one such receiving area is normally zoned at 5 units per acre, but a maximum of 7 units per acre can be allowed for those developers who have acquired TDRs. Again, this provided the receiving incentive.
The Benefits to Farmers:
For a farmer in the RDTZ, several benefits can be realized. First, agricultural activities are protected in this zone and fewer people in the area makes for easier farming. Second, the development equity of their land is protected and expanded farm uses are allowed. Lastly, once TDRs are sold, land within the RDTZ can still be purchased at agricultural value to expand farming operations. In essence, a farmer can retain the title to his or her land and continue farming while still realizing the development equity of his or her land as needed by selling TDRs
The Benefits to Others:
Anyone can buy TDRs- farmers, brokers, developers, investors, etc.; however, TDRs may only be used in designated receiving areas within the County. TDRs may be purchased on a speculative basis for resale, as the buying and selling of TDRs is market driven. Most developers have found it more profitable to buy TDRs to achieve higher densities in receiving site projects.