- Education and Training: decision support system, display
- Farm Business Management: agritourism, marketing management, feasibility study
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, community services, sustainability measures
The primary issue is that comprehensive information does not exist in formats needed to maximize agricultural viability and sustainability in Rehoboth Massachusetts:
• Information for Service Providers. Comprehensive inventory and needs assessment information is needed in order for service providers (including the Rehoboth AgCom) to design and implement programs targeted to the most pressing issues for Rehoboth farms. The 2006 SEMAP Directory of Agricultural and Aquacultural Service Providers lists 78 organizations and agencies serving the region.
The problem facing the AgCom is that we do not have comprehensive inventory information regarding our local farm enterprises, let alone needs assessment data. An inventory/needs assessment survey of local agricultural enterprises has been identified as the essential first step. The primary focus of this survey will not be to quantify crops in production, etc but instead to identify and prioritize the most pressing issues affecting the sustainability of Rehoboth farms, whether they pertain to farm succession, local zoning, conflicts with neighbors, access to markets, maximizing visitor spending, etc.
• Information for GIS Agencies. Parcel-specific agricultural inventory Information is needed so the Massachusetts Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) can update and produce GIS mapping pertinent to agricultural lands and abutting land uses in Rehoboth
Current agricultural land-use maps do not exist for Rehoboth. The most recent map, anywhere, depicting area farms is the Chapter 61A data layer developed by MASSGIS, which dates to the 1990’s. Many of the open-space parcels on this map now contain upscale subdivisions. The Massachusetts Conservation Mapping Assistance Partnership Program has indicated that Chapter 61A data (voluntary classification program for agricultural land bringing tax advantages to property owners) will no longer be included as part of the MASSGIS data sets. It appears that the towns and regional agencies will have to step up to the plate to insure that this important information is updated and available.
• Information for the general public (town residents and potential customers). Educational and marketing information is needed to promote an understanding and appreciation for agriculture as well as to increase wholesale and retail sales by Rehoboth agricultural enterprises.
The websites of agricultural service providers promote agricultural enterprises throughout the region. An online search will quickly provide the location of farmers’ markets, farm products by location, CSA’s, etc. The Rehoboth AgCom (several of whom do not own computers) want to reach out, in print, to residents and market populations who may not have thought to conduct research on local farms.
Additionally, town residents require public education in order to understand the importance of agriculture in Rehoboth, not only its open space/scenic values, but its importance in the regional economy, preservation of local food sources, and the overall rural character of the town. Some will need education regarding how to be a “good neighbor” to a farm.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Rehoboth AgCom proposes to address the need for more information on farms, farm businesses, and farmers by collecting, synthesizing, summarizing, and disseminating information described above. Information will be collected by a mail survey questionnaire with telephone and in-person follow-up to maximize participation and response rate. The promise of detailed mapping for each farm will be an incentive to increase the survey response rate. Agricultural service providers will be consulted during questionnaire design to insure that all needs assessment issue areas are given adequate coverage in the survey.
The project is innovative in its inclusion of a farm-friendly GIS (geographic information system) component. The possibilities for innovative analysis with GIS are exciting. It can be used to produce maps that are at a scale not currently available from any source that can be used for public education and marketing. It will facilitate research and analysis regarding abutting land uses, environmental conditions and other factors not hitherto possible in serving agriculture.
The project is also innovative in that most of the survey questions will deal with what the farms need as compared with what they have. The goal of the survey is to collect actionable information, not interesting information.