Since the 17th century, when early settlers first established Rochester (which then included lands from Mattapoisett, Marion and Wareham), the fulcrum of local life has been farming.
With the development of more homes and subdivisions, transforming some of the agricultural town into a bedroom community, Rochester residents took note of the need to protect local agriculture for its cultural and historical significance to the region – as well its importance as a source of local food.
At its 2006 Town Meeting, the town authorized the creation of an Agricultural Commission to represent the farming community, encourage agricultural practices and economic development, protect farming businesses, and meditate farmer/neighbor disputes.
After six years – the Rochester Agricultural Commission is finally up and running. Members include: David Smith (Chairman), Russ Keeler (Clerk), Kami Medeiros, David Souza, Mo Sperry, and Carl St. Don. The commission is currently seeking a seventh member to complete it – although it began holding monthly public meetings in February.
“Farming has been a pretty important part of Rochester historically. Our goal is to see that continue,” explained Smith.
“This commission does not have enforcement powers or regulatory authority, but serves as an advocate for farming and farmers,” he also said in a statement on the commission.
Already, the commission is pursuing several goals, including developing a comprehensive list of Rochester farms – so far the Commission has compiled 100 names – and reaching out to them so they know about the commission’s work. The AgCom plans to hold a booth at Rochester’s Country Fair in August.
In addition, a Right to Farm bylaw for the town is high on the Ag group’s priority list.
“The right to farm is something the state mandates, but a lot of towns – about half in Massachusetts – have enacted their own bylaw [to reinforce] the state’s position,” Smith said. “A Right to Farm supports farmers’ rights to do things neighbors may find objectionable.”
He said often neighbors may complain about dust and odors, the noise of water pumps that keep crops from freezing, or the inconvenience of a slow-moving tractor.
“Another thing AgCom does is when people have grievances, in the past they would tend to bring them to the Selectmen or Health Department or maybe the Zoning Board. Since we now have AgCom, we encourage those boards to make us aware of [any problem], so we can resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction.”
For information, contact David Smith at 508-245-0953 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Monthly meetings are scheduled at 6:00 pm on the third Thursday of each month in the Town Hall.
By Laura Fedak Pedulli