Stories

Farms and Forests Forever

Photo Credit: Greg Miller

Preserving a way of life in the Champlain Valley

Almost two decades ago, like generations of intrepid families before them, Robin and Keven Severance purchased a small, fertile corner of the Champlain Valley, at the eastern edge of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. As the seasons rolled past, first crops and then memories grew on their 160 acres: running a successful farmstand, caring for struggling newborn calves, and welcoming a daughter and a son, who both took to life on a farm.

Through it all, the Severances developed an affection for the land that shapes their lives, and for the coyotes, bobolinks and other creatures who also call it home. And so—“out of respect for the land,” as Robin likes to say—they partnered with OSI to protect their farm forever.

In 2012, OSI joined with philanthropist and longtime valley supporter Nat Klipper to preserve the rural culture and quality of life that makes the region unique—specifically, the land’s traditional working farms and forests, wildlands, and open spaces. In just three years, OSI’s Klipper Family Fund has protected more than 2,700 acres of the valley’s most spectacular places.

Along the way, the support of local landowners has been pivotal.

A forest that works for all

Baldface Mountain Preserve, located just north of where the Poke-O-Moonshine Mountain juts above the valley, is quietly vital to local residents. Biomass from the working forest has been a source of heat for Ausable Valley School District classrooms and local homes during the Adirondacks’ mountain winters.

John Johanson, whose grandfather and father bought the land together in the 1950s, said his family’s ongoing partnership with OSI is a token of their commitment to the local community and wildlife. So far, the Johansons have donated a 1,300-acre conservation easement (with transaction costs covered by OSI’s Klipper Family Fund), expanding on a 1,400-acre easement donation made earlier to OSI.

“We really just clicked culturally with OSI,” Johanson said. “We believe in environmental protection, but we also want to do what makes good business sense. Conserving our land wasn’t a trade-off between the two.”

A new crop of farmers

Over the past few years, new varieties of glass-bottled milk, grass-fed beef, and heirloom vegetables have popped up at area farmers markets, co-ops and bakeries. One thing the products have in common: a crop of fresh-faced farmers with special ties to OSI.

Ashlee Kleinhammer is one of these young agrarians. An environmental studies major, she felt called to seek hands-on work outdoors and dreamt of operating her own dairy—but knew her success depended on finding a community of equally passionate and knowledgeable farmers nearby.

To realize her dream, Kleinhammer turned to OSI, which has worked with young farmers to make land more affordable. To date, OSI has permanently protected Kleinhammer’s and three other new farms—including a nearly 300-acre property—with two more on the way.

“OSI and The Klipper Family Fund have been instrumental for young farmers who want to start on their feet instead of below ground,” said Kleinhammer. “It will help more financially-sound businesses to bloom and prosper in the Champlain Valley.”

Looking ahead, OSI’s Klipper Family Fund will continue to seek interested landowners like the Severances, the Johansons and Kleinhammer in the Champlain Valley. As OSI can attest, focused conservation takes the efforts of many, but it benefits even more.

Next Story From the Field

The Art of the Deal

How OSI created a serene park in the middle of a busy office complex in suburban Morris County, NJ.