According to farm supporters, issues on the table include whether Meadow Mist is running a commercial farm; whether it is entitled to legal exemptions from the Wetlands Protection Act and whether the addition of poultry pasturing and inspection constitutes a new use. Members of the Conservation Department did not immediately return calls seeking comment and clarification, but the agenda can be viewed here.
For farm owner John Moriarty, more than a mobile coop is at stake tomorrow, May 24, when Meadow Mist appears before the Conservation Commission. He says the viability of his business is on the line.
“If we don’t get the approval, it will just kind of spell the end of the place,” Moriarty told Patch in an interview Monday afternoon. “It’s not a big place, as farms go, and we have to try to find markets within the town for things that the people really want, and it’s important to follow that up. Part of what we’re trying to do is not just do an isolated business, but to show that small farms, small businesses are actually viable.”
And what the people want is free-range poultry and eggs, according to Moriarty, a woodworker and part-time farmer.
According to its website, Meadow Mist Farm is an “integrated small farm that raises and sells grass-fed beef, lamb, pastured chicken and turkey, cage-free fresh eggs and seasonal garden vegetables and berries.”
Moriarty said they want to put out 10- by 12-foot mobile coops for chickens, which they would rotate around pastures and incorporate into the farm's overall approach of being sustainable and meeting market wants and needs. Meadow Mist is also seeking approval for an on-site inspection process, which would be necessary to sell the birds, Moriarty said, adding other meat is processed off-site.
“Rather than specializing in one item, we have a variety of animals and eggs and seasonable vegetables,” he said. “We try to integrate it all together."
However, the approval of poultry pasturing may hinge on whether or not to allow the operation in a wetlands buffer zone. Moriarty says he does not have enough uplands area to put the coops up there in a permanent fashion without compromising his other crops.
While there are provisions in state law, it’s unclear whether Meadow Mist Farm qualifies. The farm, which is not incorporated, has not been recognized as a commercial farming operation, according to Moriarty.
It’s some of those issues that the petitions address.
A petition reportedly circulating among the Waldorf School community asks the undersigned to attest to their collective belief that Meadow Mist Farm is a commercial farm that “is exempt from the Wetland Protection Act that farms are normally entitled to.”
And another petition, circulated by Risa Lavelle, expresses support for Meadow Mist Farm and states the believe that it is of great value to the town.
“We are writing to you to let you know that we support Meadow Mist Farm on Bacon Street and would like to see the farm remain as a working farm,” the petition says, in a letter to the Conservation Commission. “Many older Lexingtonians have fond memories of the dairy farm once owned by the Meek family and we want our children to have a chance to develop their own memories of Meadow Mist and future farms.”
Lavelle, who’s petition has garnered more than 200 signatures in the past week, said she became involved because she believes the town and its farming community should be working hand-in-hand, possibly with the creation of an Agricultural Commission to act as a liaison between municipal government and busy farmers.
“I think we could all use a little education on this issue,” she said. “You can’t make this decision, in my opinion, purely on the wetlands alone, without taking into account the working farm.”
Moriarty said he purchased the Meadow Mist property, which is located on Marrett Road, in 1987 without the intention of buying a farm, but he quickly realized the land, which had been farmed previously, was one of the few parcels of its kind left in Lexington.
The operation started out very small, selling half of a cow to a few people and other odds and ends without any particular plan to get larger. But they have since grown, fueled by an increased interest in small, local farming.
Seeing the support from his customers and community has been heartening, Moriarty said.
“It’s been great,” he said. “Let me put it this way, the tremendous amount of support has been great, but if there’s a lot of support from the community and there isn’t from the town, there must be some sort of disconnect there.”