HARWICH — The battle over Resilient Family Farms and town regulatory control continues as the board of health seeks to address an alleged unlicensed piggery and manure management issues at the Chatham Road farm.
Farm owner Barry Viprino was before the board of health a week ago addressing charges in a cease and desist order issued in April relating to the piggery, the absence of a wholesale food license and manure management compliance.
The issue of the wholesale food license, which is issued by the commonwealth, was quickly resolved. Viprino told the board his operation was inspected by Neil Talbot, a senior inspector from the State Food Protection Program, the day before the hearing.
“We passed our inspection and our permit is being issued,” Viprino said. “This issue is now resolved at the state level.”
Health Director Paula Champagne said that was confirmed by the Department of Public Health via email that afternoon.
Viprino put forth his position that the town does not have the right to cite him for non-compliance for operating an unlicensed piggery nor can they cite him for not following best agricultural practices in managing his manure pile.
He said state statutes allow the town to conduct a public hearing before the board of health, if the town wishes to create such a bylaw; however, no legal definition of “piggery” nor applicable town bylaw could be found. “In the absence of a legal definition, or town bylaw, we were allowed to continue operations, since a violation could not be determined,” Viprino said.
He pointed out there is a local zoning bylaw that sets a limit of two pigs on lots of 40,000 square feet or larger for personal consumption. Viprino said he has three pigs and three lots make up his 10-acre farm. He also said there are at least six farmers in town known to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources that raise pigs commercially without a license.
If the board is going to ask him to obtain a piggery license he and his attorney would like to see the licenses and manure management plans for those other farmers operating the piggeries in Harwich, he said.
Champagne said town counsel has provided a different opinion on the piggery issue. After the meeting she said a residential piggery with the two-pig limit is only allowed in a couple of areas in town through a special permit. She will research which commercial farms in town have piggeries, adding there are no management plans for commercial piggeries on file.
Champagne said in her 30 years in town there has not been a piggery management plan presented to the board. “It's new to us in community development,” she said, adding that she will request a Freedom of Information Act filing for any documentation so it will reach across to all the boards and committee.
As for the manure management issues, Viprino said he follows the guidelines for best agricultural practices. He said the manure is used to produce compost by mixing carbon to nitrogen at a 30-to-1 ratio. He said the pile is placed on an imperious clay pad located outside the 100-foot buffer to wetlands, and there are berms and drains designed to redirect rain from the pile.
Viprino said he is using the compost created to fill planter pots for plants and relocating compost in which they will be planting potatoes. He said the pile will eventually be greatly diminished. He also said there are presently 100 turkeys, eight cows, three pigs and one horse on the farm.
“The pile is exposed to the elements as claimed, however this exposure was imposed on me,” Viprino said.
He said the conservation commission has prevented him from installing a cover he has had for a year, due to hearings and appeals with the commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection and Superior Court.
“Now that permission has been received, we have already begun the necessary work to install the cover,” he said, though he added the machine he uses to build the berms was damaged and that work will continue when it is repaired.
Champagne said they are still operating under the premise that the farm is a residential stable activity. That is a decision that awaits a ruling from DEP, relating to whether the operation qualifies as an agricultural exemption. The whole point of the exercise is to bring the farm into compliance, Board of Health Chairman Dr. Robert Insley said. The previous owner operated under a residential stable permit.
But Viprino said the state and federal agencies all recognize his operation as a commercial farm.
Abutter Audrey Greenway read the manure management plan for the residential stable. It requires the mucking of the stalls and paddocks twice a day and requires that the manure pile to be stored off the ground in a dump trailer to be removed to the final disposal site at the Harwich landfill for composting on a monthly basis.
Greenway said the manure hasn't been removed in 11 months and the smell is not pleasant and will get worse when the temperature hits 90 degrees.
Champagne said working with town counsel they will settle the farm issue. She said the town building commissioner needs that answer moving forward. The decision will take care of some of the issues before the board. She said they need specific documentation on agricultural exemption.
“It's a loophole we're trying to close,” Champagne said.
The health board continued the hearing to its July 11 session.