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OSI creates a network of farms with help from the State PDR Program

NEW YORK, NY — November 12, 2009 — The Open Space Institute (OSI) announced today the preservation of three Orange County farms, together totaling 328 acres of now-protected agricultural land in one of New York State’s most fertile farming regions.

Although Orange County has seen an 11 percent population increase this decade, the number of farms and percentage of its land base in farming is on a steady decline. Dairy production in the county has decreased as well, as farmers wrestle with milk prices that have fallen precipitously. Aiming to combat these trends and to protect its agricultural tradition, OSI has established a strong presence in Orange County, conserving more than 1,300 acres of farmland there since 2001. With the addition of the three just-protected farms—the 102-acre Vellenga dairy farm, the 113-acre Sprucegate dairy and the 113-acre Siegel farm—OSI’s efforts have helped sustain farmers, keeping them in business.

“This land has been in our family for 80 years,” said Carol Menendez, who operates Sprucegate Farm along with her niece. “We wanted to preserve the livelihood that has sustained us for so long. We’re excited to be able to conserve the beauty of our area’s rural setting.”

“OSI’s work in this valley has been able to turn the tide, project by project, as we preserve the historic tradition of small-scale sustainable agriculture,” said Jennifer Grossman, OSI’s vice president for land acquisition. “We applaud the Menendez, Siegel and Vellenga families for their patience, dedication and commitment in maintaining a lifestyle and landscape that without doubt benefits us all.” 

Each of the three farms was protected by a purchase of development rights (PDR) grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets. The state makes the grants available every year to help maintain the economic viability of agriculture and protect New York’s land base for future farmers. 

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said, “We are pleased to once again work with OSI in helping protect some of New York’s most valuable and irreplaceable farmland. Located within a stone’s throw of New York City, farmland in Orange County is under a tremendous amount of pressure to be developed. As more and more New Yorkers move outside of the city limits, we need to be vigilant in protecting resources that are important to both our quality of life and our local economies.” 

Each individual grant funds 75 percent of the cost of acquiring an easement on a farm, and OSI’s land acquisition affiliate, the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), funds the remainder of the cost in conjunction with local partners. OSC utilized funds from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowment, a permanent fund that was transferred to the Open Space Conservancy in 2001. Local funding was provided by Orange County.

The Vellenga family has been in farming for 150 years, operating a Dutch dairy that is now one of the largest in Orange County. Their farm is less than a half-mile from the Seldomrest Farm, which OSI preserved in 2006 using a PDR grant, and, now that it is protected, will provide an important buffer to the Dwaar Kill, which runs along the eastern border of the property for nearly a mile. 

Dating back to the early 1880s, Sprucegate Farm has provided a breathtaking landscape of rolling farm field and open meadows. Since 1928, the Menendez family has operated the dairy, producing more than 1.8 million pounds of milk per year. There are about 15 acres of wetlands on the property that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. The farm’s eastern border contains nearly 2,100 feet of frontage on the Wallkill River as it flows north into Ulster County. 

The Siegel family farm includes two components: a hot-house orchid operation that produces prize-winning flowers and Glen Haven Farm, which raises champion Gelbvieh and Scottish Highland breeding cattle stock. The farm sits atop an aquifer that is the main source of water for the Town of Crawford, and is in the viewshed of the Shawangunk Scenic Byway, the Mohonk Preserve and the Shawangunk and Schunnemunk Mountains. The farm also borders the Seldomrest Farm and is proximate to the Vellenga Farm as well. 

Conservation easements restrict the development and subdivision of a property but allow its present use—in these cases, agriculture—to continue. The landowner retains ownership of the land and may pass it on or even sell the land, although the terms of the easement must be followed by future owners. 

Easements are a popular conservation tool with land trusts and farmers as they do not require a sale of land, allow the farmer to continue farming, and provide valuable income without developing or subdividing the property. OSI has used the PDR tool to protect 17 farms and a total of 3,612 acres in the Hudson River Valley.

“In these challenging times,” said David Church, Orange County’s commissioner of planning, “the key to success is now, more than ever, partnership between farmers, government, and non-governmental organizations like OSI. These three projects are wonderful examples of that success.”

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