ULSTER COUNTY - November 8, 2007 The Open Space Institute (OSI), Scenic Hudson and Ulster County announced today the permanent protection of three multi-generational farms in the Rondout Valley. Together and individually, the two non-profit conservation organizations and the county have been preserving farms and supporting agriculture throughout Ulster County for more than 20 years, with more deals to come.
These transactions are representative of a comprehensive farmland protection effort underway in the Hudson River Valley that serves to: protect open space amid rising development pressures; safeguard a local source of fresh and healthy food; fuel a significant farming economy; shelter surrounding viewsheds; and maintain a highly desirable rural community character. The three farms protected were the Paul, Davenport and Misner Farms. The announcement took place at an event at the Paul Farm.
DAVENPORT FARM: A Flagship in the Region
The Davenports have farmed in the Town of Marbletown for four generations, two sons continuing the tradition. Through a voluntary arrangement, the preservation groups have purchased a conservation easement on 325 acres of the Davenport Farm to ensure that the land remains available for farming and is not developed.
Boasting highly prized soils (rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Prime, the highest rating), the land yields high volumes of sweet corn, melons, pumpkins, and a variety of vegetables. Residents and visitors can purchase farm-fresh goods at a popular family-run farmstand in Stone Ridge. The New York State Farmland Protection Program provided funding for 75 percent of the project, which closed on Oct. 11, while the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), the land acquisition affiliate of OSI, and Scenic Hudson each contributed 12.5 percent. OSC and Scenic Hudson used funds from their individual Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowments, that were transferred to OSC and Scenic Hudson in 2001. Ulster County paid a portion of the project costs and provided significant planning department staff time to coordinate the transaction.
PAUL FARM: Renowned for Sweet Corn
The Davenport Farm is the second state Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) project completed in Ulster County and follows the great success of the first, the Paul Farm. Originally a dairy operation, this second-generation farm in Hurley is now devoted to growing sweet corn. The voluntary transaction, which closed in 2006, was similar to the Davenport arrangement, with the state and preservation groups paying the same percentages. As a result, 268 acres of additional prime farmland have been preserved.
Pending conservation easement on MISNER FARM
Also on Oct. 11, OSI was also able to quickly respond to a direct threat of farmland loss by acquiring the 54-acre historic Misner Farm from Frederic Misner and Robert Palmatier. Without OSI’s direct acquisition, this property, which is directly adjacent to the Davenport Farm and claims more than 40 acres of productive farm fields, could have been sold for residential subdivision and development. OSI will lease the fields to the Brooks family, owners of the 167-acre Generation Farm, and in the near future will sell the farm to the family encumbered by a conservation easement which will permanently protect the land from development. Funding for that easement will be provided through the joint efforts of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Scenic Hudson and OSI.
The Davenport, Paul and Misner Farms, as well as others in the Rondout Valley, border the Esopus Creek. The creek, which flows out of the Catskill Mountains, is a significant tributary of the Hudson River and supports an abundant trout fishery enjoyed by anglers.
“Having been in this region for over 25 years, OSI’s current effort to protect the fertile valleys that surround the Shawangunks cannot be better demonstrated than through the protection of the Davenport, Misner and Paul Farms,” said OSI president Joe Martens. “It’s been a long row to hoe, and we salute the patience and determination of the farm families with whom we have partnered.”
The Open Space Institute is committed to farmland protection, having already preserved nearly 2,000 acres, (including the Davenport and Misner Farms), in the area, complementing 25,000 acres of Shawangunk Ridge protection and a total of 100,000 acres across New York State. OSI has recently committed to an ongoing effort to protect an additional 2,500 acres of farmland in the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys.
“Farms are vital to our fast-growing region, and unfortunately agricultural land is a prime target for development. Scenic Hudson is ramping up efforts to keep working farms in business. We hope that arrangements like these with leading farm families will set a positive precedent for more farm preservation in Ulster County,” said Scenic Hudson Senior Vice President Steve Rosenberg. “This is a victory for the economy and for local tax rates since crops don’t go to school or use other community services as well as for all who enjoy the local produce.” Scenic Hudson has preserved nearly 7,000 acres of farmland, part of more than 23,000 acres of land it has protected for public benefit in the Hudson Valley.
“Agriculture is an important component of Ulster County’s economy and critical to its quality of life and sense of place,” said Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson. “In addition to the purchase of development rights program, Ulster County’s support for agriculture includes endorsement of Agricultural Districts, our recently awarded farmworker housing program, and funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“Credit and thank you for this project belongs to the farm families, our non-profit partners, New York State Agriculture and Markets, and the County’s Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board,” Donaldson continued. “I invite all county residents, businesses, and visitors to support our local farms.”
Farming crucial to the valley and under tremendous strain.
Farms in the Rondout Valley and other parts of the Hudson Valley face steep challenges, including the rising price of fuel, supplies and equipment; climate change challenges; escalating taxes; and competition in a global economy. The struggles faced by the agricultural community are further complicated when a community loses a critical mass of farms needed to support local equipment and supply vendors as well as veterinarians who treat farm animals.
The importance of farms in the valley is often undervalued, but agriculture contributes more than $370 million to the valley economy, farms composing almost 20 percent of the region’s land. But the strain of development is reaching across the landscape. Across New York State each year, a staggering 26,000 acres of farmland are lost--most transformed into sprawling single-family housing development. This trend impacts food security and food quality not only on a statewide level but nationally and even globally.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that limits the nonagricultural development of a farm. When a property is subject to a conservation easement, it remains in private ownership, on the tax rolls and is monitored to ensure its conservation values remain protected. The terms of an easement are binding to future owners of the property as well. By agreeing to voluntarily protect their farm, these landowners have ensured that their property, its valuable farmland and natural resources will be protected from development pressures for years to come. By allowing a land trust or other entity to purchase conservation restrictions, the farmers are able to extract some equity from their land and generate capital to sustain their operations, often inducing a younger generation to take over the business.
“My father’s estate, like so many other farmer’s, had all the equity in farmland,” said Bruce Davenport of Davenport Farm. “Selling the development rights enabled my brother and me to buy out our other siblings without selling farmland. This is an effective method to get equity from valuable land while keeping it agricultural. To me that makes a lot of sense.”
“Preserving our family farm through the PDR program was an important and tough decision, especially being the first to do it in Ulster County,” said Barbara Paul of Paul Farm, “But we’re so happy with our decision and encourage other farmers to use this great preservation tool to help keep family farms alive in the Hudson Valley.”
More remains to be done.
Ulster County and the Town of Rochester have applied for funding from NYS Agriculture and Markets to purchase the development rights on two additional farms in the Rondout Valley. The Open Space Institute has agreed to provide the required local match for both farms. If funded, nearly 500 additional acres of highly productive farmland will be protected.