New toolkit helps towns and cities create farm-friendly rules

A woman stands in a field of plants on a farm. She is a black woman. She is wearing a straw sunhat and a black and yellow dress. She is smiling at the camera. It is a sunny day.

Is your community farm-friendly? When it comes to sustaining New Hampshire farms, local regulations can help farmers either succeed — or create unnecessary roadblocks for growers.

A new toolkit from the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture can help farmers, municipal officials and other decision makers work together to develop local regulations that can help farms succeed and maintain New Hampshire’s traditional working landscape of farms and forests. The Local Regulation of Agriculture Toolkit also encourages collaborative efforts to keep farms and their neighbors living in harmony.

Agriculture has a $190 million economic impact on New Hampshire. Farms are thriving and expanding across the state as farmers capitalize on consumer interest in locally-grown food. These farms have a far-reaching impact on their communities: they sell food to restaurants and schools, take part in bustling farmers markets and provide important cultural and economic opportunities.

That’s why having farm-friendly regulations in place are important. Land use regulations typically emphasize residential and commercial activity, but overlook agricultural uses.

Here are three easy ways to make your community more farm-friendly.

Develop Practical Land Use Ordinances and Regulations

Does your community allow agricultural uses in most zones? Farms are interwoven throughout communities. Many operate in areas zoned for residential, commercial and industrial use. In many cases, farms are hybrids of all these uses, with farmers living, growing and selling products on their land. Your community’s ordinances and regulations should provide flexibility for farming’s dynamic nature.

Enforce Local Regulations Fairly

Does your community allow roadside stand or pick-your-own operations by right? Agricultural operations like roadside stands or PYO sales are critical to farm success. Your community’s ordinances should be flexible enough so that it’s clear your community wants to promote such uses — and not deny them because they don’t fit the rules.

Understand and Encourage Farming

Does your community have an agricultural commission? State law allows municipalities to establish agricultural commissions in order to “advise town boards and staff and advocate for the interest and needs of agriculture in the community.” These commissions help bring farmers into the local decision-making process and can educate the public on farming and agriculture.

For more tips, download the Local Regulation of Agriculture Toolkit. The toolkit includes:

  • A checklist for assessing farm-friendliness of local regulations.
  • A flowchart of state laws regarding farming and agricultural activities.
  • A glossary of terms and discussion of the relationship between town and state laws.
  • A list of agencies, organizations and publications for farmers and municipalities.

Download the Local Regulation of Agriculture Toolkit

Want to know more? Take a deeper dive into agricultural laws and regulations with UNH Extension’s Legal Guide for New Hampshire Agricultural Producers.

Lead photo: A farmer at Fresh Start Farms in Dunbarton.