The Two Farms Campaign: Working with Local Partners to Protect the Land
The Two Farms Campaign all goes back to something Uncle Warren said. Heidi Jewett recalls the family discussion about the fate of their farm in Ulster County, New York. “My uncle Warren said he wanted it to stay a farm. My sisters and I are the heirs and…we found out that the best way to preserve it was to do some sort of easement. We presented this concept to our uncle and he liked the idea.”
The idea of a conservation easement came from the local Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), who in turn approached the Open Space Institute with a proposal to save the Jewett Farms as well as the Huguenot Street Farm, operated by owners Kate and Ron Khosla. While the Jewett Farm produces crops like oats and hay for its tenant, the Huguenot Farm grows vegetables, flowers, and fruit for local residents.
The two working farms reach out from the historic Village of New Paltz toward the Wallkill River and the scenic Shawangunk Ridge. These small farms, which total 180 acres, typify the kind of farms that have been disappearing from our country’s landscapes at an alarming rate for the past half century. In New York State, only 17,500 of its 7.6 million farmland acres are protected, of which 26,000 acres are disappearing to development each year, according to a recent American Farmland Trust study. The Two Farms Campaign is representative of how communities can reclaim ownership of these vanishing landscapes.
But the protection of these farms carry more than symbolic weight. Ron Khosla admits that the only thing he and his wife thought of when they considered an easement for the farm was the value of protecting local food production. “It was a good learning experience for us to hear other perspectives. We didn’t think of the reasons OSI brought to the table like the views and the future of the land.”
“First, when you protect farms, you protect open space,” says Robert Anderberg, OSI vice president and general counsel, listing the reasons why saving farms like these is so important. “Second, from an environmental point of view, it’s sound policy to have a local food supply. When you buy an apple from a local farmstand, you’re reducing transportation costs. Third, it’s good for consumers to be able to know where their food comes from. And fourth, saving farms preserves the region’s agrarian legacy.”
OSI provided half of the $962,000 needed for the land easements on the two farms while working with WVLT to raise money from the community for the remainder. It’s a partnership that has worked out well for everyone, according to Chris Duncan, WVLT’s executive director. “OSI provides resources. As a local grassroots group, WVLT has its ears to the ground and can bring strong regional projects to OSI,” he explains. WVLT had an established relationship with the Jewett family, he points out, so that the family turned to the organization when they were ready to talk about protecting their farm. Once that happened, the local nature of WVLT also provided the means for a conversation with the Khoslas about protecting their farmland as well.
The community has also been an active partner in the campaign. “We put on a benefit concert and over 400 people came and contributed over $13,000. Local singers and acts volunteered their time,” says Duncan. The Town of New Paltz passed a two million dollar bond act in November 2006 to preserve open space. Duncan says that, since the Two Farms campaign, “everyone has been saying that the campaign is like a poster child for how to use the funds raised by the bond issue.”
“It’s each family’s individual decision to decide what to do with their land. An easement is one option for protecting the land and passing it down to next generations. What you do with the land needs to fit with your goals. In putting an easement on the Jewett Farm, we could give a bigger legacy to the community of New Paltz, to keep it open and have a view of the mountains. We’d rather have the land stay the way it is and have people enjoy it generation to generation.”
Two Farms Campaign
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