• 36°

Farmers want revival of ag committee

Suffolk farmers called for the revival of an agricultural and forestry advisory committee during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Shelley Butler Barlow, of Cotton Plains Farm, said the city should be an agricultural leader, as the industry supports numerous jobs in Suffolk.

“This growing industry with an ever-increasing emphasis on locally sourced fresh foods needs to be an important part of the city of Suffolk, its business structure, its future growth plans and its economy,” Barlow said. “The expanding industries of nursery and landscaping, wineries, breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets, community gardens and agritourism can also boost our local economy by bringing in tourist dollars.”

She noted about 350 farmers operate in Suffolk, and said there should be a committee here the way there is in other South Hampton Roads cities. She cited both Virginia Beach and Chesapeake as having agricultural advisory committees, with Virginia Beach having its own Department of Agriculture.

“The city of Suffolk should and can be a leader in innovating and promoting, supporting and growing all types of ag enterprises in our community,” Barlow said. “Staying true to our historical roots, honoring the highly valued character of our city, and planning to be on the leading edge of encouraging new ag enterprises should be a priority. Reviving an active agricultural and forestry committee can be a first step toward these goals.”

Fourth-generation farmer David Bosselman, saying he was representing the Nansemond County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, farmers and rural residents, also asked for such a committee. He said the city, with a rich history of agriculture, once had such a committee in the past that provided a link between agriculture and city government, giving insight and guidance to the city on issues affecting rural areas.

“At some point, that committee ceased to exist, and the link was broken,” Bosselman said. “As it does all too often, agriculture gets overlooked and bypassed.”

He said an agricultural advisory committee could work with city officials to offer information to residents about farming practices, seasonal activities, sharing the road with large equipment, road maintenance practices and ideas to improve public safety.

Bosselman added that such a committee could offer advice to the city on issues related to forestry, logging, rural roads, bridges, water quality and environmental concerns, as well as issues with local ordinances on gardens, livestock, poultry, bees and pesticide use.

“Other programs available for farm and landowners to encourage conservation, the preservation of farmland and good environmental practices could be researched and encouraged by an ag and forestry advisory committee,” Bosselman said.

Councilman Tim Johnson said the city’s farm culture is, at least in part, sparking growth.

“We need to maintain as much as an agriculture community as we can, and to allow these people to be a part of some of the decision-making and to help advise us as a council,” Johnson said. “The advisory council that they’re proposing is something that would only be a help to us.”

Johnson motioned for City Manager Patrick Roberts to have staff members look at putting an agricultural advisory committee back in place. The council approved Johnson’s motion by an 8-0 vote.

“I think it could be a real resource to this council,” Johnson said.