Seeking a bill to promote self-sufficiency

Shepherd: Gus Steeves

Co-Sponsors: Maureen Doyle, others sought

Vetting Committees: TBA

Summary: For some reason, there's nothing in state law or the MA Constitution that directly protects our right to raise our own food. That's probably because,when people wrote those laws, almost everyone farmed,so they never imagined otherwise. 

Unfortunately, various local officials routinely create trouble for people seeking to do just that today, usually citing zoning or health codes to do so. Therefore, I'm proposing each StateCom member put pressure on our state reps &/or senators to file, sponsor and approve the bill below. For it to be included in the coming session's calendar, it must be filed by late February at the latest (maybe even late January), so we'd need to send it to whoever wins this year's elections ASAP. If necessary, that does give us some vetting time (until the January StateCom) to see if there are other aspects we want to include.

EXPLANATION: Given where the costs of food and fuel are heading, there is a need to propose amending existing legislation to clarify that small-scale non-commercial food production cannot be prohibited. Currently, MGL Chap. 40A, sec. 3, reads, in relevant part, "no zoning bylaw shall regulate or restrict ... prohibit, unreasonably regulate or require special permits for use of land for the primary purpose of commercial agriculture" if the land is more than 5 acres or more than 2 acres with $1000 per acre in sales. Unfortunately, too many local officials interpret this as meaning ALL agriculture involving animals under 5 acres is PROHIBITED, even if it's for personal use, despite the fact it clearly states towns cannot prohibit COMMERCIAL agriculture on MORE THAN 5 acres. 

The bold text in my amendment Section 1 is taken almost verbatim ("animal or plant products" here is "agriculture" there) from Chap 94, sec 130, where it exempts such uses from needing inspection, permits and other things for slaughtering. In using "animal products" here, my intent is to say that these small farms do not need the complicated refrigeration and other processing devices commercial entities might require because the eggs, meat, etc ARE NOT to be sold; the second paragraph 's reference to selling is meant only to ok vegetable products, crafts and the like. 
Chap 128, sec 1A, defines agriculture to be "farming in all its branches," not limited to commercial uses, and Chap 94, sec 147A, notes the state DPH can set regulations for game/poultry that's "intended for sale or exchange for use as food" and the conditions of storage/handling thereof -- but note that's specific "for sale or exchange." If it's for personal use, it needs clarification similar to the one we're proposing that it's exempt.

 A bill protecting the right to feed one's family

Section 1:

MGL Chapter 40A, sec. 3 ishereby amended by adding, after the first paragraph, the following text:

"This section shall not be read as enabling prohibition of a person's right to conduct non-commercial agriculture on 5 acres or less, including small livestock and poultry of his own raising, if such animal or plant products are exclusively for use by him, members of his household, his non-paying guests and employees. Such enterprises may, however, be subject to the following conditions: a) poultry may be limited to hens; b) the number of such hens may be limited to a dozen per acre, pro-rated for smaller lots; c) livestock may be limited by size to exclude full-size cattle, horses, donkeys and similar animals; d) the number of smaller animals may be limited by reasonable space requirements for proper housing and a reasonable interpretation of sanitary conditions; e) animals may be restricted from lots of less than a quarter acre.
Such non-commercial agricultural uses shall be subject to the user's written notification of current residents of abutting properties, including those across the street on which the subject property fronts, but does not require those abutters' consent. Municipalities may allow animals under condition (e) above subject to written consent of at least 80% of such abutters. Farms shall be considered 'non-commercial' under this section if they have less than five acres and their only agriculture-based income comes from selling at an on-site farmstand of no more than 30 square feet. Said farmstand shall be exempt from local zoning requirements and shall not be considered an “accessory building” for property taxes."


Section 2:

MGL Chapter 94, sec 152A, is hereby amended to add at the end the following text:

 "This section shall not be interpreted as to prevent the transport of a reasonable number of live poultry to one's home or property from a place of commercial purchase."


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