BY HEATHER BARR
In order to bring farming back into Rockland, which would provide many benefits to the community such as reducing our carbon footprint, there first needs to be a change in agricultural laws and the way agriculture is perceived, experts say. On Thursday, May 16, a Suburban Agriculture District Roundtable was held with people from across the county and state in attendance to discuss the effectiveness of agricultural districts in suburban communities with assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee leading the discussion.
Rockland, a county that previously had an abundance of farms, now is struggling to provide the support and stability farm owners need. According the the state of New York, in order to become an agriculture district there needs to be a minimum of 500 acres of land and, unfortunately, Rockland falls short, leaving farmers void of the benefits and protection they deserve.
Jaffee stated at the beginning of the roundtable that the key component to preserving agriculture is to look at how to maintain farms and create new ones. In order to do so, there first needs to be an assessment regarding what problems are going on within the agriculture community including neighbor relationship problems and a lack of trained tax assessors.
There was a general agreement that there is confusion regarding agriculture assessments and laws which comes from the fact that not everyone agrees with the same definition of agriculture and farming. John McDowell, a farmer in Rockland and the president of the Rockland Farm Alliance, expressed that people need to get past the idea that farms are not producing revenue or jobs because they are. Linda Concklin, owner of a Rockland farm that has been passed down for 11 generations, stated that her farm employees five to 50 people depending on the season.
There is no doubt that there is a local food movement underway and Rockland needs to support its local farms whether they are large or small. Jaffee’s initiative to gather representatives of farming and local governments to assess agricultural laws is one step towards helping local farmers in our community.