HARWICH — The Resilient Family Farm is growing faster than a zucchini in the heat of summer, and it has caught the eyes of town officials. Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski last week issued a stop work order on portions of the farm that are within the 100-foot buffer zone of wetlands.
The farm is located on 3.14 acres down a shelled driveway at 35 Chatham Rd. Owner Barry Viprino said he has added another 5.7-acre lot and a one-acre lot to his holdings. Viprino bought the original 3.14-acre property with a house, barn and paddocks in April, planning to develop a commercial farm. He lives on the farm with his wife and three children.
Viprino said he thought the property had an agricultural exemption, noting that a horse farm previously existed there. He said the property deed included an agricultural exemption, and he had plans to develop a good size farm.
“By Cape standards it's large, but by federal standards it's a small-scale farm,” Viprino said.
The Resilient Family Farm includes pigs, chickens, rabbits and a couple of cows, and Viprino has set up a large quonset hut or hoop house, a metal frame with cloth cover and poly-coating over the ends, where he is now raising 200 turkeys. He has plans to set up a greenhouse in one of the paddocks and aquaponically grow fish that will provide nutrients for growing hydroponic vegetables. That operation will start simple, he said, growing koi and looking to tilapia and then to less traditional fish and more diverse species. He will grow tomatoes, lettuce, leeks, greens, water crest, chives and onions from those waters.
The aquaponic operation, he hopes, will require no energy. Viprino said he has an application before the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to build a solar array along one hillside in hopes of establishing net-zero energy use.
In the process of growing the farm there have been a few small areas where land has been cleared, some of which was cleared by the previous tenant of the property, Viprino said. There are nearby wetlands, former cranberry bogs, but Viprino said he thought there was an agricultural exemption in place allowing that activity.
Usowski said she was contacted by a concerned citizen about activity within the buffer zone of wetlands. and went with Health Department Director Paula Champagne, Building Inspector Jay Briggs and Animal Control Officer Jack Burns to inspect the property.
She said there was fencing and a quonset hut constructed there and plans for additional huts to house animals. She expressed concern for not having a certified site plan for the property, pointing out Viprino also is adding additional parcels for farm use.
Viprino said it was his understanding the hoop housing is not considered a structure and does not need a building permit. He said he is working this through with the building inspector, adding that he'd like to put up a half dozen of the hoop houses for the animals.
Usowski said there were activities taking place within the buffer zones to wetlands. She also learned from Champagne a farm plan was not in place for the property and that the horse farm had only been issued a residential stable permit, so no agricultural exemptions exist for the property.
Usowski issued a Stop Work Order on Aug. 24 effective immediately for “any new structures, including but not limited to the Quonset huts and fenced-in areas within the 100-foot buffer to wetland. This includes any new structures within the pre-existing paddocks that are on site within the 100-foot buffer zone to the wetland.”
The order states a notice of intent is to be filed along with a farm plan, a wetland delineation and a certified site plan signed by a professional land surveyor by Nov. 1, 2016. “Even if you do not have the intention of using this area in the future, you must file by this date for work done without a permit,” the order states.
“They are working with us,” Usowski said. “We let them know we are pro-agriculture but you have to go about it the right way. They've been cooperative.” Champagne also said Viprino has cooperated.
Viprino said he is working on a site plan and a farm plan, adding he will be looking for approval for the full 9.8 acres. Animals have been moved out of the buffer zone and no activity will be conducted there, he said.
He said there has been some confusion along the way on both sides. Viprino said when he spoke to the clerks at the desk in the building department about permitting, he was told this is a farm town and nothing was required.
“I should have used further due diligence,” Viprino said.
Viprino had a problem in Brewster more than two years ago when he sought to establish a farm off Route 6A. He had a pig farm without the required approval from the board of health. Viprino said he was raising chickens and asked permission to raise pigs. The farm passed inspection, he said, but they did not issue the permit. “I thought I could get the pigs and did so,” Viprino said.
“Massachusetts has hometown rule, state regulations and then there is USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) guidelines. You have to be an attorney to figure it out,” said James Knieriem, a former president of the Cape and Island Farm Bureau and the farm manager for Viprino.
Champagne said she has limited oversight with agriculture, and until a farm plan is in place there is not a lot she can do. She said a piggery requires a special hearing before the board of health and they would require a hearing for poultry processing as well.
Viprino said he will be seeking a permit from the state Department of Public Health for a mobile poultry processing unit. As part of his business he plans to sell turkeys and he hopes he can get that state license before this Thanksgiving. There are 200 turkeys in the hoop house he has on site now and he mentioned processing 400 turkeys in a given year.
He doesn't plan to have a farm stand. He said there are neighbors who live along the shell driveway into the farm, and he has a good relationship with them that he does not want to jeopardize. Viprino said he plans to market most of his farm goods through the Harwich Farmers Market, which runs from June to mid-October. Turkeys, he said, would be ordered at the farmers market, but they would have to be picked up at the farm.