Normally, Haverhill, Mass., is a subdued historic mix of rural and urban areas that watches the Merrimack River quietly flow by. But in recent weeks, the northeastern Massachusetts community has been embroiled in a "not in my backyard" controversy over a Health Department proposal to ban piggeries – pig-production enterprises.
Human and animal health aren't at issue. Rather, Board of Health officials simply concluded that local piggeries are a "nuisance" and moved to ban piggeries.
Last week, Massachusetts Farm Bureau leaders took up the defense on local farmers' behalf. "At the very least, consideration of farms on a case-by-case basis would seem to be the prudent way to tackle this subject," said Dr. A. Richard Bonanno, president of Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation.
"This seems to be a blatant case of the 'not in my backyard' mentality that prefers the cultivation of housing developments instead of farmland preservation," added Bonnanno. Farm Bureau wants objective standards used to determine whether or not a farm is suitable for this type of operation.
The farm in question is permanently protected for agricultural use by the state. The board of health decision to ban piggeries via denying a permit to the farmer seems to be a knee-jerk response to residential concerns of a "possible" problem with unwelcome odors.
Leading the opposition in favor of a decision to ban piggeries at the public hearing was James Waldron, the former mayor of Haverhill. The attorney represented the developers of Hale Landing, a residential neighborhood that's "down wind" of the proposed pig farm. His opposition lies with his concern for property values and the $2.3 million invested in the project.
The farm was in existence before the housing development. The paradox, here, is that the farm, with its pastoral beauty, adds to property values, contends Bonnanno.
Haverhill has several farms in the Mass Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, which allows farmland to remain in agricultural use. "I'm not against laws governing pig farms," notes local resident Ann Davidowicz. "But I don't feel they should be banned outright. With proper management, pigs can live harmoniously amongst their neighbors."
Another public hearing held Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. in Room 301 at the Haverhill City Hall on Summer Street. Massachusetts Farm Bureau encourages supporters of local farms to attend and voice their concern over these discriminatory practices.
While cities and town(ships) throughout Massachusetts are taking steps to strengthen local farms, such as creating farmers markets, or creating right-to-farm bylaws and agricultural commissions, Haverhill seems to be heading in the opposite directions by placing severe limitations on local farms.