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Farmers split on town’s plan to encourage more farm stands

Dave McLaren

Some farmers are voicing their concerns over a plan to encourage more farm stands throughout Riverhead Town.

Under current law, farms stands located in the agricultural protection zone need to be on a farm that’s a minimum of seven acres. A proposed law seeks to eliminate that requirement, as well as expedite the application process for farm stands, deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti said during Tuesday night’s public hearing.

The proposed law would also require the town’s agricultural advisory committee and farmland committee to review farm stand applications within 30 days and make recommendations to the Planning Board, which then would have 60 days to make a decision.

Some residents told the Town Board they felt such legislation would hurt the farming businesses and open the door to a flood of farm stands not owned by local farmers.

“My concern is there would not be any regulation on this,” farmer Abra Morawiec said. “I could buy corn from anywhere and no one would know the difference.”

Phil Barbato, who has an organic farm in Jamesport, said he believes the proposed legislation could take business away from established farmers.

Councilman George Gabrielsen, himself a farmer who supports the changes, read from the town’s 2004 master plan and stated: “The Town of Riverhead seeks to not only preserve the prime agricultural soils but to encourage, promote and support farming and the local farm economy.”

Ms. Prudenti said the proposed legislation was developed with input from local farmers and requires that the principal use of the property be crop production. She also said the 7-acre minimum for farm stands only applies to the agricultural protection zone and there are other zoning categories that allow farm stands now and have no minimum size.

“This doesn’t allow the sale of souvenirs and T-shirts, which the county code does,” she added.

Larry Simms of South Jamesport said he agrees with the stated objectives of the proposals and supports the expedited review, but added that he believes “this is a bad piece of legislation with potential to hurt established farmers and cause serious damage to our economy.”

The proposal defines “locally grown” as being “grown on a farm located within the state of New York and/or within a radius of 250 miles of the farm,” which Mr. Simms described as “ludicrous.”

“If anyone thinks 97 new farm stands won’t impact farmers with established retail businesses, you’re misguided,” Mr. Simms said, adding that he believes the proposed law is unenforceable as written.

He also said the draft legislation also lacks a definition of what is considered to be products grown on the farm, which must be at least 60 percent of what is sold at a farm stand under current law.

Mr. Simms said if these proposals are approved as written, he believes the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport, which the town has taken to court for not selling enough locally grown products, would become legal.

Dave McLaren of Jamesport, a farmer and chair of the town’s agricultural advisory committee, said the proposal aims to keep agriculture alive and maintain the town’s rural character.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will delay adopting the changes and discuss them at a future Town Board work session.

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Photo caption: Dave McLaren, chair of the town’s agriculture advisory committee, addressed the Town Board at Tuesday’s public hearing.