Proposed law that would regulate farms worries some South County farmers

The town of Exeter is considering an ordinance that would regulate farms, which is concerning some South County farmers. (WJAR)

The town of Exeter is known for its rural character, and the many farms in the town limits.

Some farmers are born to the trade, others come to Exeter to try their hand.

Loren and Gina Thurn are in the latter group. Ten years ago, they bought a farm and have been making a go of it ever since.

Over that time, they’ve learned to adapt to stay in business. The previous owners had grown flowers, but they also had a flower shop. The Thurns switched to vegetables in order to have a year-round product. They sell their produce from a small farm stand on the property. In short, they are working every angle they can think of to make the farm profitable.

The town is considering an ordinance that would regulate farms. The Thurns fear it will restrict their ability to change.

“My concern is that it can be twisted in the future to really restrict what we can do, to take away things that we want to do, need to do,” Loren told NBC 10 News on Tuesday.

Gina alerted other farmers through Facebook, and a small sign at their store. She said she was surprised at the reception she got.

“There have been people who have commented...wait a minute, we bought a couple acres in Exeter because we can do this,” she said. “And now we’re finding out we might not be able to.”

Exeter isn’t the only town with this issue. GrowSmartRI has been pushing ordinances like this in a number of towns in the state. The organization has been taken aback by the negative reaction.

“It’s unfortunate. I think it’s simply a communication breakdown,” said Scott Millar, who is the manager of community technical assistance for GrowSmart. “The purpose of this ordinance is to give farm and forest owners the ability to have about 20 different businesses that are currently not allowed.”

Millar went on to explain that farms need to have a chance to squeeze any profit they can from their operations.

“If those large farms and forests can’t generate a reasonable amount of revenue, they wind up getting subdivided into house lots,” he told NBC 10.

Millar believes if he can just explain the ordinance to the farmers of Exeter, they will get on board with the new regulations. He’s hoping to set up a workshop, saying the last thing he wants to do is have the ordinance shoved down the throats of farmers.

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