On Tuesday, June 16, 2009, our last BOA meeting before our summer break, we invited area farmers to our board meeting to discuss their concerns.  The reason we held this meeting was because misinformation was going out to the farmers.  They were in a general state of chaos, and many of them were getting riled up.  We wanted to hear from them. 

It should be noted that much of the recent farm publicity has centered around a lawsuit that was filed against Marilyn Kille by the town of Carrboro for a violation of the town’s prohibition against accessory apartments in the University Lake watershed (a judge ruled in favor of the town in this lawsuit). 

But putting aside the Kille matter for now in this posting, what the farmers have gotten very upset about is hard to articulate.  For example, they expressed concerns that Carrboro is trying to regulate fertilizer that farmers can use.  But, as noted in The Chapel Hill News (click here for article:  http://www.chapelhillnews.com/front/story/50609.html),   “the only recent change the town has made in its regulations requires a permit and notification for fertilizer applications over 2 acres or more.   … [Town Manager Steve] Stewart said the new rules affect only four or five properties and are part of the town’s federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.”  Nearly all, if not all, of the farmers present, had farms located in the ETJ, not the town.

Additionally, the farmers were upset that the town wanted to investigate creating a “Farm Code,” a set of regulations for farming, when in fact, the town has proposed no such thing.  I noted at the meeting that I believe that the term “Farm Code” can be a semantic one, and that any regulations we have regarding farms are simply found in our Land Use Ordinance, and not in a separate “Farm Code” as is perhaps done elsewhere.

Several audience members also got very upset that while Carrboro had planning jurisdiction over the ETJ, the persons in the ETJ did not have the right to vote, and they found this unfair.  They were of the impression that Carrboro was responsible for this inability to vote.  Mayor Chilton pointed out that persons living in the ETJ did not pay town property taxes, and that it was state law that they could not vote.  The town attorney confirmed that persons living in the ETJ did not have the right to vote for Carrboro elected officials.

Karen McAdams, an agricultural agent from the Orange County Cooperative Extension office, discussed a farm protection plan that Orange County has been working on, one in which municipalities might have an interest, and I asked that staff look into this for us. 

On a personal note, I want to say how interesting and entertaining several of the farmers were, a few telling stories that had the entire room chuckling.  It should be clear to everyone what a treasured part of our community these farmers are, and we should do whatever we can to help these farmers and preserve these farms so that this way of life can be sustained and continue for future generations. 

Finally, returning to the specific issue raised by the Kille matter, I think it is important to separate the personal matter of Ms. Kille from a reasoned, articulated discussion of the policy that was being advanced many years ago when the BOA decided to not allow accessory apartments in the watershed.  I could support some revision of this ordinance, but not at the expense of ultimately increasing the amount of building that could take place at the current time in the watershed.  Likewise, I would like to investigate whether it is possible to allow families to keep their family members living on their farms within a re-writing of the rules that would not be detrimental to the watershed.  I look forward to receiving a report from our staff about this in the fall.