Editorial

Regulating Farms




It’s never simple. That’s a lesson members of the East Hampton and Southampton town boards are learning these days as they seek to draft laws regulating farms.

Southampton is grappling with the more complex issue: whether to allow food trucks to set up shop at farm stands and how that activity should be regulated. East Hampton is trying to solve a problem that reared its head last winter when strong winds, coupled with a lack of snow cover, caused a mini dust bowl through much of the Amagansett business district.

Both towns are dedicated to encouraging agriculture as one of their economic bases. And agriculture continues to survive here, despite so much farmland having been subdivided for housing lots over the decades.

In Southampton, farmers, who can’t hope to compete with hedge fund managers to buy land, have been looking for new ways to supplement the income they can earn from their relatively small holdings. Some have hit on the idea of either leasing space to food trucks or launching their own food service operations.

On its face, the proposal sounds harmless enough, until you hear neighbors say they don’t want the noise, garbage, and signs typically associated with food services in their neighborhoods. Should they be required to have restroom facilities? Restaurant owners, who see unfair competition, don’t particularly like the idea either. And how will the town, which has a hard-enough time enforcing noise ordinances, rental laws, and myriad others on the books, figure out a way to enforce any measure it adopts?

Meanwhile, in East Hampton, what seemed like a simple proposition to require that farmers plant cover crops to reduce wind erosion soon grew complicated when someone in the town attorney’s office — no doubt using boilerplate language — inserted a clause that called for hefty fines and even jail terms of up to six months for repeat offenders.

We’re all for protecting the topsoil, but how are you going to do that when the farmer responsible for that protection is locked up in the pokey? Fortunately, it sounds like that language will soon be discarded, leading the way toward a more level-headed solution.