Land Trusts and State Team Up To Protect Egerton Family Farm in Berkshires

Sheffield, Massachusetts August 8, 2007 - The story is all too familiar. In 1968, Gavin and Helen Egerton bought the farm in Berkshire County in western Massachusetts where they raised four children, tended animals, and grew pumpkins. When they passed away four years ago, within months of each other, they left their estate in a family trust to benefit their children. After struggling for two years, Ann, Margaret, Joy and Billy, (the only one who still lives on and farms the land), found themselves in the all-too-common situation of many second generation farm families the only way to provide for both the farm and non-farm siblings was to sell the farm. With most of the Route 7 corridor already in residential or commercial use, development pressure in the area is strong and realtors had been calling with offers.

Just when the family thought they had no other options, the neighboring dairy farmer who uses some of the Egerton’s fields suggested that the family contact the Sheffield Land Trust (SLT). They learned about state Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR), a type of conservation restriction that allows owners to realize equity without losing the land by selling the development rights to the property. In June, 2007, SLT helped the family successfully save the farm through an APR in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and a loan provided by the Open Space Institute.

The 67 acres of the farm that were protected are a mix of prime agricultural fields, wooded wildlife habitat and rich floodplain forests, in several parcels, between Route 7 and the Housatonic River at the southern gateway of Sheffield’s business district, just opposite the Sunrise Diner. Development surrounds the farm, which has been in some form of agricultural use since the mid-1700s.

Recognizing how important it was to protect this southern gateway into Sheffield, when the state was ready to close sooner than anticipated, SLT borrowed $90,000 from the Open Space Institute (OSI) to provide the required local contribution to make the APR possible. OSI had also provided a loan to SLT for the last APR in the Housatonic River Corridor, Cold Spring Farm across the river on Hewins Street. The Egerton property is the seventh farm SLT has helped to protect in the Corridor.

SLT must now raise $138,000 from the community toward the local share of the APR, to pay off the loan and interest, and cover the total cost of the project, $572,000.

“The Egerton project demonstrates how partnerships can work in everyone’s interest,” said Marc Hunt, credit manager for the Open Space Institute. “This is about farms and about families choosing to protect these threatened landscapes of western Massachusetts.”

Since 2005, OSI has provided six loans totaling $2.8 million in western Massachusetts to protect 2,100 acres of open space. OSI has played a part in conserving three working farms (including Egerton and Cold Spring Farms), a segment of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, part of the Quabbin Reservoir Watershed, Lower Spectacle Pond and The Great Meadow, listed as one of the state’s “Ten Most Endangered Historic Resources.”

Billy Egerton and his wife Donna hope to revive the family’s traditional farm stand in front of the house (a perfect marketing location on Route 7), and the rest of the farm will continue to be rented to neighboring Pine Island Farm to support its dairy operation (like most dairy farms in the region, Pine Island needs to rent hundreds of acres of increasingly scarce land, in addition to what it owns, to have a viable operation). So, this land is essential not only for the Egertons, but for Pine Island's dairy as well.

Massachusetts created the APR program almost thirty years ago, as a first-of-its-kind purchase of development rights program, to protect the state’s valuable and disappearing farmland and farms (states around the country soon followed suit). The program allows farmers and other owners of farmland to access the equity in their land without having to sell the land itself through instead selling the development rights. This is based on detailed appraisals that establish what the fair market value of the property is as well as its agricultural value, and the difference between the two is the full value of the APR.

The program requires a “local contribution” of at least 20% of that value, which can be provided by the town, raised by the community and/or provided by a less-than-market rate sale by the family (this is frequently a good way for families to off-set the capitals gains taxes from the sale of the APR). SLT facilitates the transaction, helping with the application and appraisals, providing maps and technical expertise, and raising the funds needed for the local contribution and the other project costs.

Contributions and pledges for the Egerton Family Farm APR Fund, should be payable to the Sheffield Land Trust, P.O. Box 940, Sheffield, MA 01257. Gifts of securities are welcomed. For more information call (413) 229-0234 or e-mail [email protected]. To learn more about this or other OSI funds operating throughout the eastern United States, contact (828)278-0134 or email [email protected]. Thank you!

The Sheffield Land Trust (SLT) is dedicated to protecting the land essential to Sheffield’s natural, scenic, agricultural and rural character. SLT achieves its goals through conservation restrictions, agricultural preservation restrictions, fee acquisitions and a program of stewardship and education in partnering with landowners, farmers, government, foundations, other conservation and community organizations, and schools. Since 1989, SLT has helped landowners conserve over 3,000 acres of farmland, forest and wildlife habitat.

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