Taking Liberties: Local farms in fight to stop growing regulation

Marlene Stasinos believes the best food is local food.

“It’s more healthy. It’s less processed,” she says as she walks from her farm stand toward her home in Haverhill, Mass. “It’s just better for you when you eat it.”

Stasinos’ family has been farming in and around Haverhill for three generations, but she says backyard farming is under attack.

“It's tough to grow local when the regulations stop you,” she said.
Last year, Stasinos and her husband Chris were raising eight pigs on her 139-acre hay farm. Then the local Board of Health stepped in.

“They told us no,” she recalls. “We couldn’t believe it.”
She says the board told her her barn was too close to the road and too close to her home.

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“This barn has been here for 200 years,” she said, pointing out that for most of that time, it housed livestock. “They used to build barns close to the main road to make it easier to get the meat to market.”

Haverhill rules require livestock be kept more than 100 feet from a home and more than 300 feet from a property line.

“If every farm in Haverhill followed those rules,” Stasinos said. “There would be no farms left.”
She says local rules and regulations make growing local untenable.

“Unfortunately, it's going to put us out of business,” she said. “We are not going to be able to continue farming if the regulations keep squeezing us.”

Hogwash, says attorney Arthur Aidala, who says regulations are necessary whenever you’re raising animals.

"These are animals people are going to eat and people are living right next to,” he says. “You have to regulate them.”

But not allowing eight pigs on 139 acres?

“No one is saying they can't raise the pigs,” countered Aidala, “what we are saying is if you are going to raise the pigs, we want you to maintain certain standards so that everyone's health and safety is secure.”

Peter Carbone of the Haverhill Board of Health agrees. “This is a work in progress,” said Carbone, who said the town is debating the issue. "There could possibly be a vote in May.”

Haverhill and Carbone have come under fire from farming groups throughout Massachusetts who say if Haverhill’s rules are adopted by other towns, it will be the end of local farming.

First they get rid of pigs,” said Rich Bonnano, president of  the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, “then they’re going to come after chickens, then maybe beef.”

Bonnano says Haverhill set its rules with no idea about what it takes to raise animals. He says the town and other towns like it will end up with no local food.

“It’s an attack on the buy local movement,” he said.

Carbone says he is just concerned about people’s health and safety.

“Pigs aren't a risk to anybody's health,” counters Stasinos, who says, “over-regulation is the real health problem.”

“We won’t be able to grow food if they keep over-regulating us,” she said.