Local Agriculture Backlash: Not in My Backyard

We’ve noted before what seems to be an increasing number of clashes between farmers and neighbors. And the Washington Post has an epic example of this emerging genre, the sort of story in which everyone’s half right.

Bobby Prigel is a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Baltimore County, Maryland. And although he transitioned to organic last year—and now sells his milk to Horizon—the farm is still going down, losing more than 100 grand in 2007. So he’s figured out a solution: a creamery to make butter, ice cream, and cheese, and an on-site retail store to sell it. As the Post notes, high-margin processing is where many small farmers are ending up: “If life gives you lemons, make $10-a-jar lemon curd.”

The problem is that Prigel’s farm is in a conservation zone, the Long Green Valley, and even though he’d received the approval of zoning officials and the state’s preservation agency, his neighbors are now suing him for violating the rules of the historic district. A decade ago, the Prigel family placed 180 acres into a preservation easement; they received a tidy sum for it—nearly $800,000—but they also promised that the land would be used for agricultural purposes only. That’s the rub: Opponents assert that the creamery would be a commercial, not an agricultural, activity. But Prigel says the new operation’s the only way that any agricultural activity will remain on the land. And he seems to have a point.

Personally speaking, I’ve always thought that if life gives you a local creamery with fresh-made ice cream, eat it.

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