Updated: Jul 9, 2020
By Ashley Ellixson
If the title looks familiar to you, it’s because back in August Paul wrote a post about a case out of New Hampshire where the court asked the question: should all agritourism activities on the farm be considered agriculture in nature? The court in New Hampshire ruled that weddings were not an accessory to a Christmas tree farm and thus not considered agritourism for agricultural purposes. Paul’s full post and overview of this particular case can be found here. Today I am going to tell you about a case in Massachusetts where the court there found that weddings do constitute agritourism for agricultural purposes. I know you might be confused, but I will enlighten you.
The facts of the conflict in Massachusetts are fairly straightforward. Red Ridge Farm wanted to offer the two-acre meadows of their 40-acre cattle farm to brides looking for that rustic, country theme. More than two years earlier, Red Ridge Farm owners received an opinion from the previous building inspector that the proposed use was indeed allowed and no permits were necessary. Over the past two years, 23 weddings have been hosted on the farm.
Unfortunately, complaints began to arise from neighbors abutting the Red Ridge Farm property primarily due to the use of a small road the farm owners believe they have a deeded right-of-way to use. The farm has used this road for over 40 years to haul hay and cattle up and down but now the neighbors became upset due to the increased traffic and use of the roadway. Use of the roadway that began the complaints, being litigated in a civil case separately from the today’s agritourism issue, lead to the decision of the Salisbury Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in early November.
In Massachusetts, agritourism is defined very broadly as involving “any agriculturally-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch.” In his first opinion, the town’s current building inspector argued that the weddings are an ongoing commercial enterprise and not agriculturally based. On appeal, the ZBA has found that the weddings can be considered agritourism, supported by the state and town’s Right to Farm laws. The weddings bring visitors to the farm and generally fall into the New Hampshire definition. However, the ZBA has set some ground rules for Red Ridge Farm: 1) limit use to one wedding per week, 2) have insurance to cover farm and events, 3) stop music by 10pm and close gates by 11pm, and 4) have off-road parking on the farm’s own land. The owners of Red Ridge Farm were happy with this outcome because they can continue the use of the farm for weddings and have no issues with following the rules the ZBA has set out.
Now you have seen the opposing view a state has taken in regards to weddings on farms being agritourism for agricultural purposes. The main items these decisions will turn on are the state and local laws concerning the definition of agritourism as well as the local and state zoning laws regarding land use. Check with your local zoning board before you begin hosting agritourism activities on your farm and, from the standpoint of the right-of-way farm road issue, consult your deed and inform your neighbors. Communication is key, especially if you begin new activities on your property; keep your surrounding community on your good side.