Creating an Agricultural Commission in Your Hometown [guide]

antique tractor

What is an Agricultural Commission?

The purpose of an agricultural commission is to protect agricultural lands, preserve rural character, provide a voice for farmers, and encourage agriculture-based businesses. For years New Hampshire farmers have served as stewards of land and water resources, and provided habitat for native plants and animals. As New Hampshire communities grow and change, citizens are looking for ways to support local farms, and foster new ones.

Agricultural commissions are a new idea for New Hampshire municipalities seeking to balance growth and quality of life issues, and preserve local character. A New Hampshire town or city may choose to establish an agricultural commission to promote, enhance and encourage the interests of farming, agricultural resources and rural aspects of community life. Citizens can use an agricultural commission to help keep farming viable and vibrant in their community, whether rural, small town, suburban or urban. An agricultural commission gives farming a voice, but is not regulatory.

Establishing an agricultural commission is an option for communities that value their local farms and rural character, keeping land in open space and healthy, locally-produced foods. An agricultural commission has no regulatory or enforcement authority. In general, an agricultural commission serves a similar role for local agriculture as a heritage commission for historical resources, or as the non-regulatory aspect of a conservation commission for natural resources. Heritage and conservation commissions, and other municipal boards, may spend some time on agricultural issues, but they also have many other responsibilities that prevent them from concentrating on agriculture.

An agricultural commission focuses primarily on agriculture. It will typically work cooperatively with other town or city governing and land use boards and commissions to make sure the concerns and interests of farmers are better understood and considered in their decision-making processes. An agricultural commission may:

  • Advise and work with other boards and commissions on issues facing farming in the town,
  • Conduct inventories of agricultural resources,
  • Conduct inventories of historic farms and farm buildings,
  • Educate the public on matters relating to farming and agriculture,
  • Serve as a local voice advocating for farmers, farm businesses and farm interests, • Provide visibility for farming,
  • Give farmers a place to go to for help,
  • Help resolve farm-related problems or conflicts, and
  • Help protect farmland and other natural resources

This publication was written by Lorraine Stuart Merrill, NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture

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