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Colonial-era Goffstown farm seeking OK for dairy

GOFFSTOWN — The Goffstown Planning Board is expected to continue discussions with James and Sara Shirley on an application to expand their farm into a dairy business.

After a lengthy discussion on Sept. 26, the board made a motion on whether the applicant needed a site plan approval, but it was not seconded and the board continued its agenda without a final decision on the matter.

When James and Sara Shirley filed their application to the town, they said there was confusion about requirements and they requested a waiver on the site plan review.

“We took the position that because our farm is over 250 years old, and we’re in an agricultural district, we didn’t need a site plan approval. We were surprised the town needed one,” said James Shirley on Oct. 6. “I believe the majority of the board agrees with us.”

The Shirley family has been operating the farm by since 1763. In 1976, Shirley Farm was recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a Bicentennial Farm — a farm that has been in continuous agricultural production by the same family since the Declaration of Independence. The Shirleys said there are only a few such farms left in New Hampshire. Since 1976, the farm has been raising and selling livestock, hay, vegetables and fruit, and they now want to add dairy production.

The Shirleys filed the application as owners of the property, but the milk production will be conducted by Max and Melissa Blindow, doing business as Benedikt Dairy.

“We are going to be sharing the costs, and Blindow will be responsible for taking care of the equipment and washing the walls,” said James Shirley.

The Blindows formerly had a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at the Joppa Hill Farm in Bedford, and continue to sell their milk at the town’s farmers market.

According to the application, the dairy business would produce certified organic raw milk and would be sold to CSA shareholders only and no retail farm stand will be located on the property. The business would use a 100-year-old barn, which would need some renovation and upgrades, including replacing windows and doors, installing hot and cold running water for necessary sinks and dairy equipment, and electrical wiring to support dairy equipment, lighting and heating.

“Completion of the planned renovation will enable Benedikt Dairy to obtain a grade A license, allowing it to sell its products through third-party vendors such as supermarkets. Having this license is essential to Benedikt Dairy’s financial sustainability,” the Shirleys said.

They have also been in contact with state agencies, and the health and safety of the public will be protected by the two regulatory agencies overseeing Benedikt Dairy’s operations, Sara Shirley said.

“First, the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets and Foods oversees the dairy’s organic certification which includes enforcing federal and state law regarding the environment in which the cows live, the food they eat and the management practices used on the land upon which they graze,” the Shirleys said in their application, “Second, the Department of Health and Human Services, Food Protection Section and Dairy Sanitation Program, through its licensing and regular inspection program, ensures that all state and federal laws applicable to dairies regarding sanitation and public health will be upheld.”

At the meeting, Sara Shirley said that, in 2007 the town received a grant for $756,000 to purchase a conservation easement on Shirley Hill, some of which was James Shirley’s property. That grant, she said, is proof that voters regard the property as significant agricultural land.

Brian Rose, town planning director, told the board that the proposed dairy would house up to 12 cows, and he brought the issue to the board because he felt this was a non-residential use that didn’t exist on the property.

“Dairy use is an expansion of the existing use, which would require public notification and abutter notification of the expanded use,” said Rose.

He said he will be bringing the application up for discussion at the Oct. 10 planning board meeting.

“I’m asking the planning board to clarify their position and how to respond to further inquiries,” Rose said.

During the meeting, the board approved a gray water system that will filter overflow from washing the walls. The milk house has a drain in each room, and the walls will be covered in food-grade plastic for sanitary reasons. The system is set up so the wash water drains into two 750-gallon tanks. A settling tank traps the milk solids and allows the liquid to flow into another tank. The liquid is sprayed over some of the field, said James Shirley.

“The proposed wastewater system has been designed and approved by the NRCS in accordance with regulatory standards,” the Shirleys said in the application. “These standards are meant to address any environmental concerns related to the wastewater system. The proper installation of this system will be adequately overseen through the permitting process. Given this extensive federal and state regulatory oversight, the town Goffstown has no reason to invoke health, safety or environmental concerns as a basis for requiring site plan review.”

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