Town planners discuss future of agriculture in Manchester

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., May. 13, 2011
Spinach grows in a local garden. Photo by Martha Marteney.
Spinach grows in a local garden. Photo by Martha Marteney.

Responding to interest expressed at the Planning Department’s “Manchester 2020” meetings, senior planner Gary Anderson and environmental planner Matt Bordeaux recently held follow-up discussions on Manchester’s agricultural future. Discussion topics focused not only on preserving land, but also supporting a variety of land uses, including farming.

Of Manchester’s 17,000 acres of land, approximately 900 acres are assessed under State Statute Public Act 490 as “conservation use,” which includes land in active agriculture, such as farming, orchard, pasture or woodlot, as well as prime soil areas or swamps. These lands are owned by some 60 individual property owners. Only 260 acres of land are actively farmed in Manchester at this time.

Art Ruff operates Bottomland Farm on Hillstown Road, and sells strawberries and a variety of vegetables at farmers’ markets. “It seems like people are getting more interested in local,” said Ruff. His grandparents started the farm 115 years ago, and Ruff actively farms 8 acres. “I’m concerned about Manchester, because they have so little [farm land],” said Ruff, “and that makes it more important.”

Joan Nichols, government relations specialist of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, spoke at the March meeting on the economic impact agriculture has on the state of Connecticut. There is a trend of increasing numbers of smaller and more diversified farms. Farming is a growing industry because of the interest in local farming. There are also opportunities for farms to take advantage of value-added processing, such as honey, maple syrup, salsas and jams.

“We don’t know a lot about where our food comes from,” noted Ruff. With so much produce transported cross-country and even from across the globe, costs will increase to reflect the higher fuel costs. Ruff also noted concern about the “connectedness,” such as the impact of the radiation in Japan on food sources. “The public is becoming more and more aware of the pesticides,” added Ruff. He senses that people like to know their local farmers. “They learn to trust the farmer,” he said.

The Manchester Agricultural Preservation Association is a subcommittee of the town’s Conservation Committee which focuses on the promotion of agriculture in Manchester. MAPA is developing four pillars to support agriculture in town, which they believe should start with inclusive language in the town’s Master Plan. John Weeden, MAPA’s chair, said there is “wide community support” to include appropriate language in the Master Plan. The next step is to adopt a “right to farm” ordinance to reinforce the state statute on a local level. This would have to be adopted by the Board of Directors. The third pillar is a review of the zoning regulations to be sure that agriculture is supported, and perhaps even encouraged in certain areas of town. The fourth level of support would be the development of a long-term proposal for land preservation through easements or other preservation guarantees.

“I think we need more support in this town,” said Ruff, who has been active in the discussion of the future of agriculture in Manchester. The town has the opportunity to adapt the state’s “Right to Farm Ordinance” to better fit the needs of its citizens. “I think MAPA will help,” he said.

“We’ve been getting input from the community,” explained Anderson about the “Quadrant” meetings and the follow-up meetings on agriculture and transportation. Based on the comments at the meetings, the town planners are now responsible for developing a draft document that will reflect these comments and provide the technical support mechanism for steering the town in terms of planning and zoning.

For more information about “Manchester 2020,” including the “Quadrant” meetings and follow-up meetings, visit the website manchester2020plan.net. The slideshows presented at the meetings as well as the compilation maps can be found via that site.


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