NHARPC Report: Local Regulation of Agriculture Toolkit

Amy Manzelli and Theresa Walker

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

Conflicts surrounding farms are on the rise in New Hampshire, be it neighbors challenging farmers, farmers engaging in activities that stretch or exceed what constitutes agriculture, or entrenched attitudes about property rights.  At the same time, farms are thriving and expanding across the state as farmers capitalize on consumer interest in locally grown and produced food and communities strive to become more economically and environmentally resilient. The New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture (Coalition), an ad-hoc group of New Hampshire farmers, regulators, agriculture advocates and policy makers, identified the need for information for farmers and local officials about state laws governing agriculture and how local policies and regulations can help or hinder local agriculture.

A Checklist for Municipal Planning for Agriculture

Farms are thriving and expanding across New Hampshire in new and exciting ways as farmers capitalize on consumer interest in fresh, locally grown and produced food. Farm stands, community gardens, community-supported agriculture, and summer and winter farmers’ markets provide access to New Hampshire grown agricultural products year-round, creating opportunities for farmers to build their businesses.

To support this economic development, municipalities can do more to ensure farms are successful. Agricultural land use is often overlooked in local plans and regulations, with emphasis given to residential and commercial activity, transportation networks, and recreation. As a result, farmers can be hindered by uncertainty regarding how state and local regulations are applied to their operations. Municipal plans, regulations and policies that are flexible and clearly promote and support farming can help ensure New Hampshire’s traditional working landscape of farms and forests can continue to work in the future.

This checklist, originally developed by the New Hampshire Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture in 2001, has been updated to reflect municipal interest in creating economically and environmentally sustainable and resilient communities that recognize the importance of a local and regional food supply, as well as the recognition by local officials that agricultural land in all of our communities provides more than food and forest products and rural character that supports tourism, but also jobs, greater food security, water supply protection, flood storage, and wildlife habitat.

With grant funding from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement, the Coalition researched and developed the Local Regulation of Agriculture Toolkit.  The Toolkit is designed to raise awareness of state laws governing agriculture and how those laws intersect with local regulations.  The Toolkit includes:

  • A checklist for assessing the farm friendliness of local regulations and policies;
  • A flowchart of state laws governing farming and agricultural activities (current as of September 2017);
  • A glossary of terms, and discussion on the relationship between state laws and municipal laws;
  • A resource list of agencies, organizations, and publications for farmers and municipalities to address conflicts and pro-actively develop farm-friendly regulatory environments.

The Coalition established a project steering committee comprised of farmers, state, regional, and local planners, land use attorneys, and representatives from agricultural agencies and organizations.  Project leaders conducted research designed to hear first-hand from farmers and municipal decision-makers about the kind of information needed to support and regulate agriculture at the local level.  Information was collected at the February 2017 New Hampshire Farm and Forest Exposition, November 2017 New Hampshire Municipal Association Annual Conference, and meetings with farmers and land use planners.  The draft Toolkit was developed and presented to stakeholders for review via a webinar hosted by the New Hampshire Food Alliance in January 2018 and at the February 2018 New Hampshire Farm and Forest Exposition.  Project leaders presented the completed Toolkit at the April 2018 New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives Planning and Zoning Conference.  Copies of the Toolkit were distributed to all workshop participants via email, as well as interested parties at local and state government.  The Toolkit is now available via websites hosted by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives, New Hampshire Association of Regional Planning Commissions, New Hampshire Farm Bureau, County Conservation Districts, Farm Credit East, Food Solutions New England, and other agencies.

The Coalition is working to secure grant funds to develop additional tools requested by local planners and farmers, including modified site plan review regulations that accommodate the unusual needs of agricultural businesses, such as farm-based stores and seasonal events

Download the Agricultural Toolkit:  https://www.agriculture.nh.gov/publications-forms/documents/agriculture-regulation-toolkit.pdf.

Amy Manzelli is a member and part owner of BCM Environmental and Land Law, PLLC in Concord.  Amy practices environmental, conservation, and land law across New Hampshire.   Amy may be reached at 603.225.2585 or by email at manzelli@nhlandlaw.com.  

Theresa Walker is consultant planner with the Rockingham Planning Commission and works with municipal officials on a wide variety of projects, including natural hazard mitigation planning, water quality and wildlife habitat protection, natural resource inventories, and the retention of the region's working landscape of farms and forests. Theresa also serves on the Town of Durham Agricultural Commission and can be reached at 603.534.3913 or by email at theresawalker@comcast.net.