by Susan Mikula Campbell
In recent years, developers have found ripe pickings in Wheatfield, snapping up farmlands and building housing developments and businesses.
It's to the point where new Councilman Randy Retzlaff is concerned that farming is becoming endangered in Wheatfield.
He and the town's Agricultural Focus Group, which he chairs, have scheduled a public information meeting and open forum on the subject for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, at the Wheatfield Community Center next to Town Hall. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
Retzlaff is hoping not just those in farming but a good cross section of town residents will attend to express their views on farming and agriculture, as well as land use and zoning, community character, growth and development, and agribusiness.
"Farming is good for the community," said the councilman, who himself grew up on a farm.
"We want to keep farming in Wheatfield as much as we can."
"What people don't realize is that farming keeps the taxes down," he pointed out.
Farmlands not only provide green fields, but also don't overload the schools or the town's infrastructure. Farms put minimum wear and tear on roadways and don't need all the services developments do.
It's not that he's against development in Wheatfield.
"We need to keep a good mix here in the town," Retzlaff said.
The Agricultural Focus Group is developing an Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, to preserve farmland and open space in the town, help guide future growth and identify measures to support and protect agricultural activities in the community. It is part of Wheatfield's efforts to update its Comprehensive Master Plan.
The town received a grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and has hired Wendy Salvati of WWS Planning to help prepare the town's Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan. On Tuesday, members of the Agricultural Focus Group and representatives of WWS Planning will provide a brief presentation and moderate an open discussion to receive comments from the public. A "vision map" will be displayed showing farm areas the town decided as part of its master planning process ought to be preserved.
Salvati said the focus group wants to know if residents feel that area should be increased or decreased. The map, shown here (PDF), can also be found on the town's website under comprehensive plan.
Salvati said the focus group wants to know if the town is heading in the right direction in putting this plan together and also be sure residents understand the benefits of farming.
"We're not sure what people think," she said.
Retzlaff worked on the family farm until he was 18 years old. He and his sister still own a farm and rent out the land to farmers.
Farmers are working under difficult economic conditions these days, so Retzlaff understands why they decide to sell land to developers.
"Developers will pay much more than farmers will for the same parcel, banking that they can subdivide it," he said. "You can't blame a person for wanting to sell. That's their retirement. ... We have to keep it in balance as much as we can."