Farmers’ plan stalled by un-hatched zoning

COPAKE—Rob and Heather Kitchen want to raise their chickens and butcher them, too.

But Town Zoning Law, which is currently under review, does not allow it.

Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen own and operate Pigasso Farm at 500 Farm Road where they raise a variety of animals for meat. They sell the meat at their farm stand and to area restaurants. Along with chickens, the Kitchens raise pigs, cattle, lambs and turkeys around the holidays.

Those who aren’t driving by too fast may notice the menagerie grazing and/or rooting around in their pastures along Route 22 near the Farm Road intersection.

Mr. Kitchen and his attorney, Mitchell Khosrova, came to the Town Board meeting June 13 to ask the board to quickly amend the town Zoning Law to make it possible for Mr. Kitchen to “process,” that is, butcher, his farm-raised birds onsite instead of shipping them off and paying someone else to do the work.

Mr. Kitchen’s four-legged beasts are considered “large animals” under the law and must be processed at a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected slaughter and processing facility. Mr. Kitchen ships his animals to Hilltown Pork, Inc., in Canaan.

The farmer proposes to process 2,800 chickens and 40 turkeys per year at the farm.

Mr. Kitchen said by phone that he buys day-old chicks and raises them for eight weeks—when they weigh in at 3 ½ to 4 ½ pounds apiece. The chickens are the most labor-intensive part of his business, he said.

His plan is to process 100 chickens at a time, one day a week for six hours, seven months per year, May through November. If Mr. Kitchen is allowed to do the processing himself, it will save him $14,000 annually. He told The Columbia Paper in a phone interview that he currently pays a processor $6/bird, when he could do it himself for $2.25. He said the weekly waste generated by the processing is less than a 30-gallon garbage can’s worth, including blood, feet and all unused portions of the birds.

Mr. Kitchen recently applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for use variance to build a processing facility on his farm. The ZBA turned him down because under current zoning law, while “the processing and storage of agricultural products, including packing, warehousing and storing, is permitted; slaughterhouses, rendering, fertilizer plants and canneries are prohibited.”
Mr. Kitchen said by phone, that the ZBA told him he should have read the zoning law before he bought his property.

The Kitchens have been farming at Pigasso for the past nine years. Until two years ago, Mr. Kitchen, 45, was working a full-time job elsewhere and at the same time doing all the farm work. Mr. Kitchen said the farm became his full-time job two years ago and this past February his wife also went to work full-time on the farm because he needed a hand and could not afford to hire someone to help.

If the farmer already had a processing facility, under state Agriculture and Markets Law he would be exempt from town rule and he could process 1,000 chickens per year without a permit. Because he wants to process 2,800 birds annually, he will also need an Ag and Markets permit and the state will monitor his operation.

Mr. Khosrova told the board that oversight by the state would be “useful” to the town. The attorney asked the board not only to amend the law to clearly state what will and will not be allowed, but also to provide definitions of “slaughterhouse” and “agricultural products.”

Allowing a farmer to process his own farm-raised birds is “consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan,” which supports local agriculture, Mr. Khosrova noted, adding that he and Mr. Kitchen would be willing to limit the processing operation further if that’s what it takes and work with the town to draft a zoning law amendment.

“The Town Board should take the lead and consider it. It’s ultimately a Town Board decision,” the attorney said.

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer said that while he is not personally opposed to Mr. Kitchen processing his own chickens, he does not feel comfortable amending the law without having two town-appointed committees: the Land Use Review Committee (LURC) and the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Committee (AFPC) offer their recommendations on the subject.

The LURC is currently in the process of reviewing Town Zoning Laws to bring them in line with the Comprehensive Plan, but may be a year or two away from completing its mission.

Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons, Town Board liaison to the LURC, said the committee is working on definitions and she will ask them for a recommendation at their next meeting. Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler, Town Board liaison the AFPC, said that committee is already discussing the issue of processing and a townwide policy must be developed. The issue has “a lot of ramifications,” said Ms. Mettler.

Copake resident Diana Wilson said she hoped the public and abutters to the farm would get a chance to offer comment about the proposal. She said she personally wants to see the processing facility “blueprint.” “The killing of animals is a moral issue,” said Ms. Wilson, adding, the town might be opening itself up to demonstrations.

Copake Lake resident Lindsay LeBrecht said the town needs to support its farmers. “We all need to live together. No farms, no food.”

Mr. Khosrova said he would request a recommendation from the AFPC.
“We’d be more apt to change [the law] quicker, if we got a recommendation,” said Mr. Nayer.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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