My Turn: Henniker’s view of ‘agritourism’ is far too narrow
The Sept. 17 Monitor included an article on the Christmas tree farmer’s dispute with the Henniker zoning board over the term “agritourism.” The activity of agritourism started in New Hampshire well over 100 years ago. In 1899 Gov. Frank Rollins gave birth to a new tradition, Old Home Week, which aimed to encourage former residents to return home for a vacation, to renew their ties to family and fortify the values associated with “old New England.” This brought revenue to the state, and within a few years all the New England states had followed New Hampshire’s example.
One hundred years later, agritourism is even more important to help preserve New Hampshire agriculture. Since the early 1900s much of New Hampshire’s farm land has returned to forest. Aerial photos taken in the 1940s and now can communicate how much agriculture has retracted from the state. Does anyone want the future of New Hampshire to be nothing more than trees, highways, power lines and rooftops void of any of the scenic farms we associate with our state?
The Henniker zoning board’s definition of agritourism and particularly the definition of “enjoyment of farm environment” appear to be a narrow “look, gaze, but don’t congregate” mindset. This definition doesn’t leave much to pay the rent.
The intent of the original legislation was to generate extra income for struggling farms. Surely the ability to capitalize and preserve the views of some of New Hampshire’s most stunning parcels, many of which still exist because of farms, is a worthy cause protected by legislation. Current use taxation helps farmers with the tax property tax burden of their farm land, but the land under and around farm buildings is assessed at development value.
If towns want to have their prized sites and vistas maintained as farms, and not be subject to development, they must meet the farmers half way and permit agritourism to help satisfy the tax burden. Many a farmer has turned down attractive offers from developers to keep their farms as working farms, some of which are in Sanbornton. Those farmers now find themselves land rich and cash poor as a result. New Hampshire doesn’t tax cash but it does tax land.
New Hampshire citizens need to support agritourism in all ways possible to keep these remaining farms a part of New Hampshire’s future.
(Ralph Rathjen lives in Sanbornton.)