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Text of Farming Resolution presentation

This is the text of the presentation of the Farming Resolution, offered by Janet Kern to Lexington Town Meeting on April 28, 2010:

1. My name is Janet Kern. I’m a new Town Meeting Member from Precinct One and I’m offering this resolution on behalf of a growing number of citizens interested in raising a greater awareness and learning more about how farms and farming in Lexington are important to our future.

2. This resolution is not about appropriating funds, or creating a committee, or approving a change to the zoning by-law. But your support of it will make a difference to Lexington, because it asks for formal “encouragement” from you to those who are working to help make more connections between farms and farming to citizens of Lexington.

This article seeks to keep farms and farming in Lexington’s future and not only part of our history.

3. Why Now?

The interest in local farming and local food has been growing rapidly, based on a number of concerns people have, especially about health and the environment. I decided to elevate the issue to Town Meeting because of my recent experience with the Busa Farm purchase by the town last year.  As a neighbor of the farm and someone recently introduced to the importance and value of locally grown food through my work with the Lexington Farmers’ Market, I  was surprised that initial consideration of uses for the property didn’t include continuing the farm use.

I realized that one of the reasons for this is that there is no official body in the Town of Lexington whose purpose is to help protect farmland or to consider the community benefits of having working farms in Lexington, and for that reason, there was nobody involved in early evaluation of possibilities for preserving the farmland when initially taken to the CPC.

With the encouragement of a few people, I started the Lexington Community Farm Coalition (LexFarm) to help everyone learn more about the possibilities  and benefits for Lexington of farms and farmland in our future.

4. This resolution calls on Town Meeting to do 3 things:

Recognize Lexington’s long history of farming
Affirm
the value of our existing farms in our community; and
Encourage
the continued presence of farms and farming-related activities into our future.

5. Let’s take a quick look at the history of farming in Lexington

6. I’m sure most people know that when Lexington was first settled in 1642, it was known as Cambridge Farms. And of course, it’s part of our town seal

7. This is a copy of the  hand drawn map by Edwin Worthen that is now available as one of the maps in the new online cultural resources survey – it shows the original 8 land grants that made up “The Farms”

In fact, working farms were a center of Lexington’s landscape for more than three centuries; but increased demand for housing sites after World War II accelerated the decline of agriculture and loss of open land in Lexington. The rising cost of land made farming and holding of large tracts of land increasingly costly and drove many farmers out of business. With refrigeration and a developed transportation infrastructure, the perceived need and value of local farms was diminished. Lexingtonians could get fresh food from elsewhere.

8. We remember some of the farms that were lost by the names of the housing developments that replaced them…Five Fields, Peacock Farms…

9. While over the course of Lexington’s history, there have been dozens or maybe even hundreds of farms, today there are only 2 or 3 working farms remaining in Lexington. Here’s a chart that shows a little more recent picture of what’s happened with farmland in Lexington. This shows a twenty-nine year period from 1971 – 1999.  35% of existing farmland in Lexington was lost during that time alone…

Of course, we’ve lost more since, but we’ve also preserved some pieces and found ways to use conservation land for agriculture – leasing some of it to farm businesses and offering community garden plots to residents…So let’s take a look at what farms mean to us now.

10. The second part of this resolution is to affirm the value of existing farms and farming offer to Lexington. It’s pretty clear that we already do value our farms.

11. You might recognize this montage of pictures from the Town office building right outside the Town Clerk’s office.

12. Two pictures of Wilson Farm take a central place in the montage and affirm Lexington’s “Sense of Place”

13. Come through Lexington center on any Tuesday afternoon from June to October and you’ll see a Town that supports farms and has already helped residents experience the many benefits to the community of farming-related activity. And Lexington is not alone in recognizing that the demand for local produce from farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs has increased dramatically in the past five years along with the strong nation-wide movement to support small local farms.

14. The final part of this resolution asks Town Meeting to “Encourage” the continued presence of farming and farming-related activities in Lexington, including farm businesses and community organizations related to farming. This is the part of the resolution that will make a difference to Lexington’s future.

15. Depending on who you ask, you might get different reasons about why farms are important to Lexington’s future.

(Lines in italics were deleted from the presentation due to time constraints:)

Some might cite Food Security : The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland disrupted significantly freighted fruit and vegetables, especially in Europe, and has highlighted the extent to which we are all vulnerable, as long as we continue to ship our food from elsewhere. Local Farms help.

Others Climate Change: For those who are increasingly concerned about how to reduce our carbon footprint, the question of how many miles and how much fuel was used to transport food – becomes paramount. Local Farms help.

Health: As we look to address the epidemic of childhood obesity in our country, we discover that local farms can provide much needed fresh vegetables through programs like “ Farm to School”.

And speaking of schools,  With access to local farms in Lexington, we have the opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise to raise childrens’ and adults’ awareness and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables , encourage better eating habits among children, and provide first-hand education about where food comes from and how it is grown.

And of course, buying food grown and sold in Lexington, keeps money in our local economy.

As we begin to grasp more and more how important local farms will be to our future health, economy, and environment, we start to look at the farms of our past, present and future in new way, we begin to appreciate our history a little more, that freshly picked lettuce a little more, nd we  find ourselves wanting to encourage others around us also to look at farms in new ways.

16. Encouragement can go a long way.  In this case,  it is a statement to all businesses and citizens concerned with local farming in Lexington – that local government is willing to listen and learn more from its citizens who are engaged in activities that might benefit the town as a whole.

Encouragement can help people move from simply having a good idea to working constructively with other organized groups and departments in town and beyond to implement new initiatives.

Before you is a partial list of organizations in Lexington providing programs for the community about agriculture and local food, and on the next slide is a calendar listing of recent and upcoming events they’ve held.

17. There is a high level of interest and enthusiasm from involved citizens and there are resources available statewide through the Mass Department of Agricultural Resources and nationwide through organizations such as LocalHarvest.org and the American Farmland Trust

As interest in local food and farming increases in Lexington, so will our need as a town to respond to that growing interest. We would be well-served to take a first step by encouraging existing farm operations and existing community groups to work together with departments and organizations in town to evaluate all the implications and determine what kind of farming-related activity is appropriate and best for Lexington into the future

18. Farming may or may not continue on the Busa property, but if you are glad that farming is at least being considered as one of a number of uses there and elsewhere, you should support this resolution, because it tells ordinary citizens who are working to understand how farms can benefit Lexington in the 21st century – to continue to do that work because you believe that work will make a difference to Lexington.

And it tells those same citizens that its town government is willing to collaborate and encourage more working relationships to provide the necessary mechanisms to consider all of the implications of farming that might not be so apparently positive or obviously beneficial to the town.

We are all still learning about how farming practices and attitudes towards farming have changed since Lexington was settled over 300 years ago as Cambridge Farms. Let’s continue learning together as a community:

Let’s Recognize our Farming Heritage
Affirm the Value of Farms today and
Encourage Farming into the future.

Thank You.