What Does Being a Right To Farm Community Mean in Massachusetts?
Farming is important to the Massachusetts economy, with over 7,000 total farms producing over $475 million dollars annually in agricultural products.
It makes sense then, that the majority of cities and towns in Massachusetts and Berkshire County are right to farm communities. Maybe you’ve heard that term before. But what does it really mean? Can you just start farming on your property? Can you put chickens in your backyard? Can you get a cow and sell dairy products out of your home?
Well…the answer is no to all those questions (for the most part).
To put things simply, being a right to farm community protects farmers from what are called “nuisance” lawsuits. For example, let’s say you buy a home in Adams, and you smell cow manure from a farm down the road. Or, you live in Pittsfield, and you notice dust in the air from a nearby farm, or you’re stuck behind a slow-moving tractor. Since those towns are right to farm communities, there’s nothing you can sue about. Right to farm essentially means that you might be exposed to some farm smells, sights, and sounds by living in this city or town.
The right to farm bylaw was put into place because farming is important, and farmers need to be able to do their thing for the benefit of the community. Basically, the benefits of local farming are greater than the downsides of smelling manure now and again coming from down the street.
However, that doesn’t mean you can suddenly get a cow and put her in your backyard and sell milk, for example. While by-laws vary from town to town, you’ll still have to be zoned and permitted as a farm before you can do any farming, especially with livestock. To use another example, you can’t just buy a bunch of chickens and put them in a chicken coop in your backyard in Pittsfield. And, just in case you ARE interested in having chickens in Pittsfield, here’s a link: Links to Forms, Plans, Ordinances & Regulations (cityofpittsfield.org)
On a personal note, I’m a farm boy (grew up on High Lawn Farm in Lee) and I miss many parts of it, especially working with the animals! Even in the times we live in, farmers play a crucial role in our society and economy, and deserve more respect than they get, in my opinion. Having a city or town be right to farm means they can continue to contribute to the benefit of our community without having to worry about nuisance lawsuits, and I’m all for it.