Prospect farmers appealing zoning order

Whitney Miller-Caporaso, above, and her husband Christopher Caporaso are appealing a cease-and-desist order issued by the Planning and Zoning Commission for the couple to stop selling produce from their community supported agriculture farm on corner of Straitsville Road and Porter Hill Road. LARAINE WESCHLER

PROSPECT — The owners of a small community farm are pleading their case to continue to allow shareholders to pick up crops on their property.

Whitney Miller-Caporaso and her husband, Christopher Caporaso, operate a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on their small plot of land at the corner of Straitsville Road and Porter Hill Road in Prospect.

Shareholders in the farm pay for a share of the farm’s produce at the beginning of the growing season, then pick up their share from the farm once a week.

In August, the town’s land use inspector issued a cease-and-desist order on allowing CSA members to pick up produce on the property. The couple is taking their case to the Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night.

At issue is the definition of the word “retail.”

The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission said the operation violates a special permit issued in March 2008, for two commercial greenhouses in a residential zone. The permit stipulates that no direct retail sales are allowed to the general public on the residential property.

The consensus among the commission was that since people are paying for produce, it is inconsistent with what was approved in the special permit.

The Caporasos don’t consider their system to be retail.

“We’re asking for the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) to allow us to continue the CSA,” Miller-Caporaso said.

The couple is also looking for community support.

“People aren’t quite sure what we’re doing,” Miller-Caporaso said.

She said a lot of her customers are students from New Haven, to whom she delivers produce at two drop spots, but Prospect and Waterbury customers pick up their shares at the farm. She said about one-third of her shareholders, 25 people, pick up their basket either Wednesdays or Fridays between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. She does not sell produce to people who are not members of the CSA.

During a hearing July 20, Commission Chair Donal Pomeroy expressed concern that the small number of CSA members could grow to 250 members, according to the minutes.

With just one acre under cultivation, Miller-Caporaso said she’s not trying to have a large farm. She said her farm is quiet and doesn’t disturb anyone.

“We’re not trying to irritate anyone,” she said, and added her CSA members know not to back into the road.

Miller-Caporaso said someone suggested members pick up their goods in a church parking lot.

“What difference does it make,” Miller-Caporaso asked. “Why should a shareholder not be allowed on the farm. … It’s semantics.”

When people come to pick up their produce on the farm, Caporaso said, they learn about farming and are more connected to their food.

The couple has been farming on the property for about three years, but this is the first year the CSA really took off.

Miller-Caporaso said she doesn’t want a farm stand and doesn’t want to run a retail store. The Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved a farm stand and petting zoo in a residential area on Spring Road.

When the farm was first approved in 2008, 10 neighbors asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to include stipulations to ensure the business wouldn’t impact the character of their neighborhood or property values.

Those who object to the CSA say it is like Peapod, a grocery delivery service provided by Stop and Shop.

“We’re nothing like Peapod,” Miller-Caporaso said.

She said her farm is local, sustainable agriculture.

“This is just some organic gardens,” said Caporaso.

Miller-Caporaso said she started the CSA because she couldn’t make a living driving around to farmers’ markets to sell her produce.

The Caporasos have gotten several state and federal grants to improve their farm, including grants to expand their sugar house, irrigation system, and well.

“The state thinks what we’re doing is great,” Caporaso said. “We’re not even interested in making money. We just want to make enough to make this happen.”

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Don Pomeroy could not be reached for comment as of this post.

The hearing on the couple’s appeal begins at 7:10 p.m. in Town Hall.