The Ashfield Agricultural Commission encourages the pursuit of agriculture in town as both a business and a resource, the preservation of farmland, and other farm-related concerns. At the Ashfield Annual Town Meeting in 2006, the Right to Farm Bylaw was approved. This bylaw encourages the pursuit of agriculture, promotes agriculture-based economic opportunities, and protects and conserves farmlands withing the Town of Ashfield by allowing agricultural uses and related activities to function with minimal conflict with abutters and local agencies. It promotes and protects agricultural interests for present and future generations. In addition the commission provides a forum for consideration of farming issues, assuring that the impact of land use and other local decisions impacting farming interests are adequately considered.
The commission gives the dwindling ranks of farmers a voice in their community government, provides education about the importance of farming in a community’s life, and seeks solutions when conflicts arise with neighbors disgruntled on the smelly or un-attractive side of farming life.
The Agriculture Commission is appointed by the Select Board and receives no budgeted funding from the town. All expenses incurred have been voluntarily borne by the AgCom members or funded out of grant funding.
About Agriculture in Ashfield
One hundred and fifty years ago New England was 80% clear and 20% forest. The principle agriculture was raising sheep for the wool to supply the mills. Over time dairy farming became the major agricultural occupation and much open land went back to forest. New England is now 80% forest and 20% clear. Dairy farming, the most recent obvious use of agricultural land, is waning. As it has for over 200 years, the face of New England agriculture is changing.
Whether or not you farm for your livelihood, Ashfield folks know that agriculture is a vital facet of our community. Few among us can say we have nothing to do with agriculture. We might be farmers, our family farm and its work handed down through generations. Others of us have chosen to move to Ashfield to find a new “country” lifestyle. We might have a few animals, vegetable gardens, a small orchard or sugarbush. We all look forward to the Farmer’s Market, to maple season, and Fall Festival’s bounty. We have friends who farm. We think about the food we feed our families, and buy it locally.
The Ashfield Agricultural Commission has taken a particularly active role in helping to support and preserve local agriculture since its formation in 2006, establishing a town Agricultural Preservation Fund that accepts donations for the preservation of agricultural lands and the revitalization of agriculture in Ashfield. The Commission has also assisted with the development of the town’s Right-to-Farm Bylaw (which is communicated to landowners on tax bills) and a grievance resolution protocol to settle disputes that may arise between landowners and farmers. A marketing grant from MDAR funded a locally distributed farm brochure, a portable display board, and a digital picture frame to showcase Ashfield’s farming activities. Through all their activities they have found that clear and effective communication has been the key to their success.