East Hampton Town Forms Agricultural Advisory Committee

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Starting this month, a newly created East Hampton agricultural advisory committee will be offering the East Hampton Town Board and other regulatory boards suggestions and opinions on a wide range of farming issues.

The committee, which includes 13 farmers and others in the agriculture business, will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, October 8, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. While it is too early to say exactly which issues the committee will address first, local farmers say the committee is a necessary addition.

Longtime Quail Hill farmer Scott Chaskey, who has served on similar agricultural committees over the years, said having a committee for East Hampton Town will ensure that the industry gets a fair shake.

“If we have an ongoing committee, and names and faces would change every now and then, we could then keep the pace with the new needs of the industry,” he said. “I’ve been active in this community for the last 25 years, and part of what we’re doing at Quail Hill through the Peconic Land Trust is educating young farmers, and part of our mission is our want to be part of the dialogue that leads to possibly more younger farmers.

“I also really embrace this new idea of adding the committee to the whole mixture—we’ll be working on building up the community,” he continued.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said this week that the Town Planning Board requested the agriculture committee because of the number of land use and agriculture questions that arise in the board’s weekly reviews of applications.

Ms. Overby, who is the committee’s liaison to the Town Board, said that it is important to have a group of farmers and agriculturally minded people to look after agricultural resources.

“We want to keep part of our history and tradition alive … we have some of the best soil in the country,” she said. “It’s not only about East Hampton but about the future and being sustainable across all lines. Instead of having food come to us, we can go back to that way of life where we don’t have to look to other parts of the country for food that can be grown here.”

In addition to sustainability and preservation, the committee is expected to review ways to keep agricultural reserves actively farmed rather than used as lawn or left to lay fallow, according to Ms. Overby and advisory committee member and farmer Alex Balsam.

Mr. Balsam, who runs Balsam Farms in Amagansett with Ian Calder-Piedmonte, expects the committee will make sure those in the agriculture industry do not get “unduly burdened.”

“Obviously, there are a lot of decisions that impact agriculture directly and indirectly that are made by our town,” he said on Monday. “We want to be there in an advisory role to say, ‘Here’s agriculture’s view on the topic.’”

The committee is largely following in the footsteps of Southampton Town’s agricultural advisory committee in its makeup and purpose, according to Mr. Balsam.

“Anytime there is any agricultural structure proposed or any subdivision that affects ag lands or any application that some way impacts agriculture, it gets reviewed by the agricultural review committee,” he said. “While it’s not binding … the committee members do weigh in and their opinion is valued and valuable.”

Mr. Balsam has been farming for 12 years and has a good deal of experience on other agriculture committees. He serves on the executive board of directors of the Long Island Farm Bureau and acts as East Hampton Town’s representative to the Suffolk County Farmland Committee. He also sat in on Southampton Town’s agricultural advisory committee as a representative of the Farm Bureau.

Other members of the East Hampton Town Agricultural Advisory Committee include: Billy Babinski, Brian Bistrian, Peter Dankowski, Dean Foster, Peter Garnham, Elaine Jones, Amanda Merrow, Tom Miller, Randy Parsons, Kim Quarty and Janet Van Sickle. Scott Wilson, the town’s land acquisition and management director, Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town’s Planning Department head, and Mr. Calder-Piedmonte, a Town Planning Board member, will act as ex-officio members.

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