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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Malta law will further protect farms

Malta law will further protect farms

A new law gives anyone who owns seven acres or more of land in Malta the right to raise crops or kee

A new law gives anyone who owns seven acres or more of land in Malta the right to raise crops or keep animals without local government interference.

Farmers can also operate a farm stand on their land without needing any special permits from the town.

Those provisions are included in the Agriculture Protection Overlay District adopted Monday by the Town Board in an effort to preserve the town’s remaining farmland and open space.

Malta’s law may be unique in New York state in applying to the entire town with only a few limitations, said David Haight, chairman of the town’s Open Space, Agriculture and Trails Committee, which drafted the new law.

“We’re pleased, excited about it,” he said after the Town Board adopted the regulations.

The intent is to encourage the town’s remaining farmers to continue, and perhaps encourage new farmers. Malta, like other communities in Saratoga County’s Northway corridor, has lost much of its historic farmland — including all its dairy farms — to suburban development and other land uses over the last few decades, as land values rose while agriculture prices often stagnated.

The idea of guaranteeing properties of sufficient size could be farmed in the rural-suburban town grew out of an agriculture protection plan adopted by the town in 2009. The Town Board subsequently adopted a right to farm law that grew from that plan.

“It provides regulatory relief for farmers in the town of Malta,” said town Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Audrey Ball.

The law means properties of seven or more acres can be farmed anywhere in town except the downtown zone and lands that are in planned development districts.

“People can have animals. They can grow crops,” Ball said.

Housing for agricultural workers and farm-based businesses would be allowed by special permit from the town.

“I think this is just the next step from where we left off with the right to farm law,” said Carol Henry, a member of the Open Space, Agriculture and Trails Committee. “It lets farms in areas that are maybe primarily residential know the town supports what they do.”

Farmers speaking at a public hearing before the vote were generally in favor of the law.

“It will definitely help us in the future in our endeavor to get a nice family farm business going,” said Bill Leak, who recently bought a 38-acre horse farm on East Line Road.

Peter Brooks of Nelson Avenue Extension said farmers in the area don’t typically have the hundreds of acres devoted to agriculture found in states like Iowa, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.

“It isn’t just a romantic notion to support agriculture here in Malta,” he said.

Peter Balet, also of Nelson Avenue Extension, urged the town to adopt a lower minimum acreage standard, saying as little as two acres can be farmed.

Haight, who is Balet’s son-in-law, said the committee recommended seven acres because that’s the minimum set by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets for farm protection programs.

The town’s weekly farmers market opened for the season Tuesday in the Allerdice Hardware parking lot on Route 9. It will run from 3 to 6 p.m. each Tuesday through the end of the growing season.

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