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SHERIDAN — There is a “Portlandia” episode that features the two main characters peppering their waitress with questions about whether the chicken served is local, how much room it had to roam and if it had any friends on the farm.
Though a bit tongue-in-cheek — with the waitress presenting documents about “Colin’s” life on a nearby farm — the episode touches on an issue becoming more important for food consumers and producers alike.
The issue of growing, processing and selling local food came before the Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday. The commission voted to recommend to county commissioners approval of an amendment to county zoning regulations that will allow on-farm sales of local produce, products made from that produce like jams and salsa, and accessory items like books that promote healthy, local eating.
Essentially, the amendment will allow area agricultural producers to build a retail structure on their farm, such as a tent or farm stand, in order to sell their locally grown food, much like they would at a farmers market.
It will also allow for small-scale processing, including cleaning, sorting, grading, packaging, milling and storage.
The amendment is geared toward the sale of produce like fruits and vegetables, County Planner Mark Reid said, although it could include meat and livestock products if a farmer applied for and received a conditional use permit to do commercial slaughtering and processing.
The request for a zoning amendment came from local farmers like Brad Holliday of Holliday Family Farms near Dayton and Chris Shaw of Shiloh Valley Family Farm south of Sheridan, who were both present at the meeting to speak in favor of the amendment.
Sheridan resident Kentz Willis, who appreciates the value of locally grown foods, and Shannon Anderson and Gillian Malone, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, were also present at the meeting to speak in favor of the change.
“I can sell you hay bales all day long from my farm, but I can’t sell you a tomato,” Holliday said.
A few years ago, Holliday began raising and processing chickens on his farm near Dayton. He has a conditional use permit to sell chicken from a retail store on his farm, and he also sells online, at farmers markets and through venues like health food stores, but he can’t sell produce from his retail outlet.
County regulations do not prohibit sales of produce from homes or a “you-pick” format. This amendment will allow retail sales from a retail outlet, potentially generating additional income for local farmers.
“The time is right, the need is here. People want to know where and how their food is grown,” Holliday said.
Planning commissioners generally spoke in favor of the idea but were cautious to tweak the language in order to limit the size and scope of sales, not wanting this amendment to somehow allow a Del Monte-sized operation to move in and set up business.
Changes included: a tweak to the definition of “agriculture” to include “on-farm, or local retail sales” to clearly allow farmers market sales; removal of a line in the amendment limiting the number of employees allowed; and a line stating that at least 75 percent of the sales shall be from products grown on the landowners’ farms. The last change will allow sale of accessory items and items that may include a small amount of ingredients not grown locally such as sugar.
Commissioners also included a caution with their recommendation of approval to county commissioners to decide if retails sales should be allowed in rural residential and urban residential zoning. The amendment includes RR and UR zones, as well as agricultural, but planning commissioners were unsure if it should.
In other business, commissioners:
• recommended for approval a conditional use permit for Neltje to expand her Turned Antiques business on U.S. Highway 14/16 south of Sheridan with the addition of a 25-by-50 foot metal building similar to the other two buildings already in use
• recommend for approval erection of a 191-foot Verizon cellphone tower 1.6 miles north of U.S. Highway 14/16 near Clearmont on Gary and Vicki Jo Koltiska’s ranch. The tower is similar to one located 250 feet north of the proposed site.
• recommended for approval the erection of a temporary 20-foot Verizon cellphone tower on the Sheeley Ranch near Dayton. The tower will be taken down once a permanent tower can be installed in the town of Dayton, a process which is already underway.