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OSI Protects Successful Dairy Farm in the Catskill Watershed

NEW YORK, NY July 2, 2007 One of the first dairy farms in New York State to demonstrate that changes in management can dramatically reduce water pollution has now been protected, securing its continued operation as a viable economic pursuit in Delaware County. Today, the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), the land acquisition affiliate of the Open Space Institute, announces the purchase of a 388-acre dairy farm in the Towns of Kortright and Meredith, Delaware County. The goal of the acquisition is to protect the land from potential development, enhance watershed protection, and support working farms while preserving the agricultural community and open spaces of Delaware County. 

OSC purchased Jim and Barbara Robertson’s Deerfield Farm for $1,049,000 using funds from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowment, an endowment that was transferred to OSC in 2001. The Watershed Agriculture Council (WAC) is expected to purchase a conservation easement on the land, permanently protecting the agricultural land from incompatible development. Once a conservation easement is in place, the land will be sold to Kyle and Bonnie Rockefeller, a young farming couple who grew up in the area and currently operate Rockycrest Holsteins. The Rockefellers will lease the property in the interim. Kyle Rockefeller, who once attended the University of Maryland on a baseball scholarship, left a promising career in sports in order to pursue life as a dairy farmer in his home region. 

“The preservation of this outstanding dairy operation benefits the agrarian community of Delaware County, fortifying a strong economic base for continued agricultural operations,” said Jennifer Grossman, OSI’s Vice President for Land Acquisition. “It also preserves an historic farmscape and beautiful open space of the Catskill-Delaware watershed region, an area that nine million New York City residents rely on for clean drinking water.” 

With panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains and the surrounding countryside, the farm is located in the heart of the agricultural region of New York City’s watershed. Not only a successful and active dairy operation, Deerfield Farm has critical importance to the watershed as one of the original ten pilot farms that helped design WAC’s Whole Farm Planning process. Whole Farm Planning is about finding ways to simultaneously and effectively manage a farm’s environmental, economic and production needs. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) initiated the long-term study on Deerfield Farm about ten years ago to quantify the benefits of Best Management Practices (BMP), conservation practices meant to prevent or reduce pollution and enhance and protect water quality. The Robertsons participated voluntarily when they learned that their land was ideally situated to be part of the pilot program due to its topography and drainage. 

The NYSDEC study proved that effective management of water quality threats on farms located within the watershed can be a viable and cost-effective substitute for regulation or filtration. Data collected through elaborate monitoring stations concluded that the implementation of BMPs notably decreased total dissolved phosphorus by 43% and articulate phosphorus by 29%, substantially decreasing harmful impacts on water quality without compromising the viability of the dairy operation.

“Using best management practices is voluntary,” said Fred Huneke, WAC’s Chairman of the Board, “but we hope that any new young farmers will continue to use them.”

Just as vital as protecting New York City’s water quality is supporting Delaware County’s strong agricultural tradition. 

“Jennifer [Grossman] and OSI worked very hard to not just protect this as an open space, but as an active farm that is an important part of the community,” said Amy Kenyon, Board President of Farm Catskills, a grassroots membership group committed to protecting an agricultural way of life in Delaware County. There are more than 700 farms in Delaware County, covering nearly 200,000 acres, and the region is well-known for its dairy and maple products.

“Today’s accomplishment made it possible for a young farm family to come in and buy land when it would have otherwise been unaffordable,” added Kenyon. “We think it’s a great new model, one that we want to institutionalize in the watershed as part of New York City’s land acquisition program.”

“We’re quite happy the land’s going to stay in agriculture,” said Jim Robertson about the land that has been in his family since his grandfather purchased it in 1944. When asked what he learned by partaking in the water quality study, he responded, “I learned that farmers aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be. There are lots that we do to improve water quality, from educating ourselves on how best to feed our cows to handling the waste.

“I’ll be working closely with Kyle and Bonnie, [the future owners], to show them how to do the best management practices so we can make the transition smoothly,” said Robertson. “It’s an individual thing, and every farm is different, but every farmer should check [best management practices] out. It’s good way to go.” 

The mission of the Open Space Institute (OSI) is to protect scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character. OSI achieves its goals through land acquisition, conservation easements, regional loan programs, fiscal sponsorship, creative partnerships, and analytical research.

OSI has protected nearly 100,000 acres in New York State. Through its Northern Forest Protection Fund and Conservation Finance Program, OSI has assisted in the protection of an additional 2.1 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

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