Letter: Westport, this is your vote — support Right to Farm

Posted 1/29/20

To the editor:

Talk to people about living in Westport and most people will say, “Oh, that’s the beautiful farm town tucked in between Fall River and New Bedford”.  And …

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Letter: Westport, this is your vote — support Right to Farm

Posted

To the editor:

Talk to people about living in Westport and most people will say, “Oh, that’s the beautiful farm town tucked in between Fall River and New Bedford”.  And truth be told I think most people that have moved here or lived here for generations love hearing that about Westport.  In fact, folks in town adopted a Right to Farm Bylaw as a means of supporting and protecting the farms in Westport, and it’s worked.  

I challenge anyone to find another town on Massachusetts’ Southcoast with more farms, and a glance through the Semap directory of farms will confirm this.  Westport is undoubtedly a farming community.  But, times and towns change, and new people have moved to Westport.  They might have moved here for the beauty of Westport’s stone walls and its farms with rolling fields that curve gracefully along the Westport River, but they’ve also brought with them a desire for change.  I think the question that begs asking is whether or not Westporters want this change?    

The Board of Health recently enacted an Animal Regulation directed at farmers and animal owners.  This wasn’t a change that most folks wanted yet it was still enacted in spite of an enormous showing of support for farmers and animal owners opposing this registry.  A very small handful of animal activists supporting this registry were able to sway the board into a vote that implemented the animal regulation.  

A town regulation governing animal ownership runs in opposition to a town interested in preserving farming and animal ownership with a Right to Farm bylaw.  Somehow the Board of Health missed this.  I’ve been at recent board meetings and seen firsthand local residents with concerns being dismissed with arrogance and disdain. I believe that these town boards are missing their mark and forgetting what Westport is about; Westport is a farming community.  And we’re not a farming community with an animal abuse problem.  We’re a farming community with a political problem.  

We believe that the Board of Health animal regulation is fatally flawed, and violates our current Right to Farm Bylaw.  Our Right to Farm Bylaw encourages the pursuit of agriculture and allows agriculture to operate with minimal conflict with town agencies.  The current Board of Health regulation violates this town bylaw and people’s 4th amendment rights.  

It is disrespectful and insulting to every farmer and animal owner in our community that the Board of Health implemented a regulation against farmers and animal owners in our town based on the Medeiros abuse case. It makes local farmers and animal owners scapegoats in this case when in fact the Board of Health visited this site twice without addressing the problem.  We believe that strengthening our Right to Farm Bylaw will make the necessary correction and protect farmers from future overreaching boards.  

Farmers in our town are currently regulated under the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Barn Book Inspection Process and have yearly inspections.  Farmers in our town respect and support this state process that works well in other towns.  In an effort to justify their regulation, Board of Health stated that local emergency personnel did not have access to this information.  As stated by Mike Cahill, director of Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, this is not the case.  Fire and police have access to barn book information.  They always have.  

At a recent Board of Health meeting he mentioned several times the success of the state barn book process and their interest in preserving people’s 4th amendment rights.  Several times Mr. Cahill asked the Board of Health what job it is that they are trying to do that required they have the information requested in their registry.  In fact, the Board of Health and their activists worked hard to find a loophole that they thought would allow them to implement their regulation under the Board of Health requiring only a three person vote instead of allowing for a town vote on the regulation.  We believe that members of the BOH are ill-equipped to manage farm animal ownership in our town and folks in our town do not trust them to do this.

The time has come to take back our town!  In the next few months there will be several opportunities for the people of Westport to have their voices heard.  Join your farmers and neighbors on February 11 at Westport High School at 7 pm for a special town meeting.  This is an important not to be missed event where every vote will count, and the farmers and animal owners in Westport need us behind them.  Your vote at this important landmark meeting will strengthen the foundation of our current Right-to-Farm Bylaw thus protecting farmers and animal owners from over-reaching Board of Health Regulations.  Be sure also to join us again in April at town election when we cast votes for people who will actually work on behalf of local residents.

The heart of Westport lies in its farms, and by choosing to ignore the voices of our farmers and those that support them the Board of Health has poked a sleeping bear.  And, we will come out to show our support in the coldest of winter’s months.  We will come out in droves on February 11 to support our farmers and show them the respect that they deserve.  Supporters of Westport farmers and animal owners are not willing to lay down the Right to Farm signs that identify our town as a Right to farm Community.

Join us:  February 11, 7 pm, Westport High School.  Be heard!

Westport Farmer’s Alliance

Sherri Mahoney

Sam Mundel

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