Right to Farm


Vermont’s right-to-farm statute is an important element of the legal framework protecting the state’s working rural lands and the food, jobs, viewsheds, and other benefits that they provide. As residential areas continue to creep out into the countryside, and more agricultural properties in rural areas are adapted to residential or other non-agricultural uses, farmers and their neighbors will inevitably be faced with the problem of incompatible land uses. By providing farmers with strong protection from nuisance suits, right-to-farm allows farmers to keep these lands productive without undue legal interference resulting from these conflicts.

In the 1970s, states across the country began to enact right-to-farm laws in response to new residential development that had begun to encroach on existing agricultural lands. As this encroachment occurred, farmers and residents clashed as the two uses often proved to be incompatible. Residents desired to live in rural areas and enjoy the visually pleasing aspects of farm lands and open space, but frequently became bothered by the sounds and smells that are the unavoidable realities of an agrarian society. Increasingly, residents began to take these complaints to the courts in the form of nuisance suits.

Though nuisance suits could solve residents’ problems with farms, they created a new set of potential problems for farmers already challenged by market and regulatory conditions. When courts found that farms posed a nuisance to neighbors, they could shut them down with injunctions, assess monetary damages, or enjoin them from operating their farms in certain ways. Even when courts found in favor of the farmers, litigation costs alone sometimes created unbearable burdens for small farms.  Right-to-farm laws are designed to protect farmers from these types of nuisance suits.

The Vermont Approach – This section provides a basic explanation Vermont’s right-to-farm statute, and how it works.

Summary of Vermont Supreme Court Decisions – This section summarizes leading Vermont Supreme Court decisions on right-to-farm.

Dillon’s Rule and Right-To-Farm – This section explains Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule and how the two approaches to municipal regulation effect right-to-farm at the local level.

Right-To-Farm and Nuisance vs. As of Right Agricultural Zoning – This section explains the differences between nuisance suits and challenges based on zoning regulations, and how right-to-farm relates to each.

Resources – This section provides a list of further resources that provide more detailed information on this topic.