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Can county find more land for food growing?

  • Workers place produce into bins at Red Fire Farm in Montague in early July. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 06, 2016

If ramping up agricultural output is going to become a reality, as outlined last year in food plans by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, it’s partially going to be by putting additional acres of farmland into production.

That’s a goal of a Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ workshop planned for Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss towns leasing land for production and protection. As part of a continuing education series for town officials, the free meeting in the John W. Olver Transit Center’s first-floor conference room, will give town planners, Selectboard and agricultural board members a chance to learn about leasing potential farmland

There’s no clear idea of how much potentially productive land is out there that’s not being used, according to Mary Chicoine, a land-use planner for the COG, but as part of a focus on whether some public lands, owned by the state or towns, could be leased for farming, the workshop is an attempt to get town officials to think about land that could be some of the additional 40,000 acres that’s needed to be farmed here in order to generate half of our food supply locally by 2060.

“It came up that there may be a role for municipalities to lease out parcels to people looking for farmland,” as Greenfield did at its Just Roots Farm, or as Gill does in leasing some of its town-owned property for growing hay.

Among the participants in the workshop are the Keene, N.H nonprofit organization Land For Good and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, who will discuss ideas with anyone interested about how leases might look and “how it could go hand-in-hand with farmland protection,” said Chicoine. “We’re just trying to get conversations going with municipal officials and get them thinking about it. Part of this is exploratory”

Presenters will include Kathy Ruhf, senior program director of Land for Good, and Jamie Pottern, a land conservation specialist with Mount Grace, which helped Just Roots in its work with Greenfield, both in protecting the town’s surplus land and working out the terms of a 15-year lease to develop it as a community farm.

The COG’s 2015 Franklin County Farm and Food System Project found there was a need, particularly among new farmers, to gain access to more farmland. In addition to looking to using more public land for farming, whether it’s adjacent to schools or other kinds of property, another possibility is town forest land that could be made available to maple production, or even having a section cleared out for farming.

“This is an excellent chance to learn from experts who work with farmland and farmers every day,” Chicoine said, especially where there are potential pitfalls that can be easily avoided. “It could be complicated, but I think it has to be.”