One common problem for farmers is having a rich neighbor move into their area who one day decides he no longer likes farming and does his best to hurt the farmer’s operation even though the area is either zoned for agriculture or is zoned where agriculture is a permitted use. Here is one such story from FTCLDF member Kara Zaks in Massachusetts. We are providing representation for Kara on her court challenge to a new town law limiting the number of poultry she can have on her land.
It started over four years ago; I fell in love with four ducklings that I had almost thrown out after a hatch we did in a school where I work. All the eggs came from a 4-H project and were all supposed to be chicken eggs. We had waited an additional four days after the last chick hatched to see if there were any late bloomers. We waited until the end of the day Friday after all the kids left for the weekend. Another teacher and I proceeded to start cracking open the unhatched eggs to see where in the process they had stopped developing. I cracked open one egg, and it started to chirp. I peeled off a small piece of shell and saw a bill, not a beak. I peeled off more shell to see a webbed foot, not a claw. I removed the rest of the shell, and we had a cute little duckling with a large amount of egg sack still attached. We then started to put the remaining eggs up to our ears and noticed that three more were chirping. We quickly set the incubator back up with heat and water (all the water had evaporated two days prior, and we had unplugged the incubator a few hours earlier) and brought the three remaining chirping eggs, that now started to pip, and the duckling to the teacher’s house for the weekend to finish hatching. Turns out the other three hatched successfully and the duckling absorbed the rest of the yoke and the teacher brought them in to school on Monday to the surprise of the class and the entire school.
I checked my town’s current zoning and by-laws for where I lived and found that I could have any agricultural animal I wanted in any number, except for pigs. My father was on the zoning board for our town, so I double-checked with him. This is why I bought my property over 19 years ago: I could have a small business and sign as long as it did not show, and I could have agricultural animals. We are a right-to-farm community in ALL zones of our town, even commercial. So I brought the four little ducklings home.
The zoning stated that I needed a setback of 20 feet, so I went 25 feet just to be safe. Everything from the fencing to the coops and the pond I checked with the zoning laws and bylaws to make sure I was in compliance. For years, I have been buying fresh, free-range chicken eggs from a friend because I can’t stand the bland taste of store-bought eggs. Over the last few years of working in a school system, I have also encountered the effects of the hormones, antibiotics and other additives in our foods and the damage they are doing to us and our children, not to mention how our “food” is treated before it is processed. Also, in this day and age, a single parent living on one income is finding it harder and harder to get by.
With my ducks I can provide my family with eggs, meat and compost to fertilize my vegetable garden, along with the free-range ducks eating any ticks and other bugs in my yard saving me more money in not purchasing flea and tick preventative (more chemicals) to put on my dogs and cats. Smaller grocery and vet bill, healthier foods for my family and all 100% natural. A win, win, win.
As I fell more and more in love with these ducklings and did more and more research, I found out about all these different wonderful breeds and how some of them are so rare. We have many heritage agricultural animals and produce becoming extinct, so I felt the need to help preserve some of these genetics. I started acquiring a few rare breeds, like the Cayuga and the Ancona along with the Welsh Harlequin, to breed them.
For three years now, I have been feeding my family healthier foods from my own property and trying to keep a few heritage breeds from going the way of the dodo bird. I also donate my extra eggs to food banks to help the less fortunate.
My neighbor, who must not have read the zoning and bylaws, called the Board of Health on me last year and told them that I had illegal poultry for our neighborhood and stated that I was hoarding manure in my yard. When the Board of Health came to investigate, they found no manure anywhere on my property and no issues whatsoever and that I was in perfect compliance. Just because my neighbor was friends with two of the three selectmen and because he did free electrical work for the town, he convinced the town to try to create a new bylaw limiting the number of poultry I could own as well as establish greater setback requirements. The bylaw was voted down unanimously by the townspeople, so he had the town selectmen berate and threaten me over and over again. And when that did not work, the selectmen gave the bylaw to the Board of Health and made them pass it as a new regulation.
The new regulations only cover poultry and rabbits (because of some other complaints regarding rabbits) and no other agricultural animals. If they are going to create new regulations to guard the town for health reasons, wouldn’t you add cows, horses, goats, sheep and other agricultural animals? I think one horse would be more detrimental than 20 ducks, don’t you? I brought that up to the Board of Health that these regulations are pointed exactly at me and the gentleman with the rabbits just by their wording and by not including ALL agricultural animals. They said they would cross that bridge if they have to. Over the past year, there have been many other townspeople, including one selectman, who had commented that this should cover all agricultural animals.
I am not the only person in my neighborhood that has agricultural animals. A neighbor across the street has chickens who roam free over the entire neighborhood digging up people’s yards and gardens, but I get the blame; there are horses and llamas down the street from me. A friend of mine a few streets down has chickens and rabbits, and the town did not bother her. Another couple I know has chickens and rabbits on the other side of town, and they were not bothered.
Last year, my neighbor stated that he wanted to sell his home and that my poultry next door was lowering his property value so I had to get rid of them. Later in the year when he had his lawyer after me in front of the town selectman, I had asked why the town should cater to a person who wants to leave our community over someone who has been here for 20 years and is planning to stay. My neighbor’s lawyer said that he was not planning on selling his house and that he was planning to stay in the house. Well, right after the new regulations were passed by the Board of Health, he put his house up for sale.
I am continuing my fight to keep my poultry and hope to be successful. Not just to feed my family healthy food, but also to do my part to continue some rare heritage duck breeds.
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Services provided by FTCLDF go beyond legal representation for members in court cases.
Educational and policy work also provide an avenue for FTCLDF to build grassroots activism to create the most favorable regulatory climate possible. In addition to advising on bill language, FTCLDF supports favorable legislation via action alerts, social media outreach, and the online petition service.
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