|One of the issues that I’ve been focusing on as a small-town journalist is agriculture. Grand Island, in the past, was a farming community. In the nineteenth century, Lewis F. Allen, for whom Allentown in Buffalo is named, started an experimental farm on the southern tip of Grand Island, called Allenton Farms. He raised cattle and he planted orchards and vineyards. He became well-known for the work that he did with shorthorn cattle. According to a website called buffaloh.com, Mr. Allen planted a large number of fruit trees. The trees that he planted were:
Over the years, Grand Island became less rural and more suburban. People, however, still like to call Grand Island a “rural community.”
Unfortunately, despite the presence of a “right to farm” law in the town code, Grand Island has been extremely restrictive of farming activities. In fact, Grand Island has been more restrictive of farming activities than the City of Buffalo. Farmers were receiving notices from the town saying that, for them to continue their work, they would have to apply for zoning variances.
One of these farmers is Tom Thompson. He is a retired laboratory technician, who moved to Grand Island so that he could have space to own a farm. He has chickens and, in the past, he had hogs. I buy all of my eggs from Tom. As you can see in the picture above, they are lovely brown eggs. I am happy to buy the eggs directly from the farmer, instead of in the supermarket, where they might have been stored for a long time.
Last year, he also grew sweet corn and field corn in the pasture behind his barn. In September 2015, Tom received a letter from the Town of Grand Island informing him that he has chickens and that he had to pay $100 to apply for a zoning variance.
Tom’s property has been farmed for generations. A previous owner, Carl Kaegebein, who passed away in 1994, had 10,000 chickens on the same property. He owned the land from 1941 until 1969. In 1961, an egg handling device that he invented was patented. The person to whom he sold the farm, Paul McCarthy, raised show horses.
Tom and other Island farmers got together and formed a cooperative. They then applied to join one of Erie County’s fourteen agricultural districts. Being part of the agricultural district would shield members from unreasonable and overly restrictive local laws.
Yesterday, the Erie County Legislature voted in favor of all of the farms that the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board had recommended be included in the Amherst Agricultural District. The state will then certify these farms for eight years.
|Tom Thompson’s farm is one of the farms that is to be included in the agricultural district. His work in support of agriculture was recognized by the New York State Farm Bureau. In December, he was given the James Quinn Award for service to agriculture during 2015.
He has plans for his farm and for agriculture in Grand Island. He talked about a farm store or a farmers market for Grand Island farmers to sell their produce.
|Foods that could be sold at a Grand Island farmers market would include eggs, garlic, vegetables (beets, swiss chard, sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, and more), honey, sausage, and maple syrup.
“We could have a little self-sufficient community that provides all of this cool stuff at market,” Tom said.
note: you can find me on Twitter at @alicesbears.