Attendees briefed on RTF updates
NEW BRUNSWICK (March 1, 2018) — New Jersey has had a strong Right-to-Farm law since 1983, which is sufficient time to build up case law reaffirming the powers and limits of the state, according to Allison Reynolds and Dave Kimmel of the state’s Agricultural Development Board.
The two presented at the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference on Jan. 27, to clarify changes and answer questions.
Reynolds said the rationale behind RTF legislation is to protect farmers from local regulations that are unduly restrictive.
All but three of the most urban of the state’s 21 counties have County Agricultural Development Boards that are the first line of defense for farmers.
The CADBs handle complaints and also can act if they foresee a specific issue coming in the county.
They also provide free mediation between farmers and neighbors.
The CADBs take complaints seriously, Reynolds said.
They look at the farm’s activity, making sure it is compliant with generally accepted practices and with state regulations, especially in terms of stormwater management, freshwater wetlands and animal waste management.
She pointed out CADBs don’t have carte blanche to impose their views or ignore municipal land use laws. “They can’t ignore local regulations,” she said.
This tends to become an issue when a municipality has a more stringent regulation for trout-production streams or other sensitive bodies of water.
The boards ensure farmers can participate in protected activities without interference.
These include using equipment and farm buildings, production and packaging.
The SADC has the ability to add items to the list of protected activities.
Worker housing is currently not a protected activity.
Reynolds explained a farm operation cannot be a threat to public health and safety.
More likely to come up as a complaint from neighbors would be a line of sight issue when entering or leaving a farm stand, she said.
The advent of agri-tourism has brought more questions than ever to RTF issues, Reynolds said.
“Weddings aren’t protected,” she said, referring to the farms that mow a field and pitch a tent and allow nuptials or other large parties.
“An agri-tourism event must be a method to market your agricultural output” she said. Giving a jar of jam as a favor to wedding guests doesn’t count.”
She noted special occasions on farms can be a tricky issue. A farm to table dinner is OK if it uses the output of the farm.
A farm camp for education might be protected, but not an overnight camp, Kimmel said.
While some states, like Vermont and North Carolina, have a number of farms that offer overnight stays, New Jersey’s Right to Farm law does not cover that.
The free services offered by SADC are important, Kimmel said. These include as roster of mediators between the farmer and neighbors, the municipality or the state.
Right-to-Farm doesn’t solve everything.
Questions from the audience about the proposed beekeeping regulations before the New Jersey Department of Agriculture focused on whether the municipality of Peapack and Gladstone had too much influence, but nobody seemed to be able to offer any answers.
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