By Rachel Chrostowski, Farmland Protection Specialist
During the summer when I was a kid, I spent the days out at my grandmother’s house in farm country while my mom was at work. Every morning, we would drive past beautiful rolling fields of corn, punctuated with big old barns. My little brother and I giggled and covered our noses as we passed the dairy farm we affectionately called “Stinky Corners”. These summer days in the country are some of my fondest childhood memories. Sadly, as I grew older, old barns came down and houses appeared where the crops used to grow. Farms were disappearing. And while I never spent much time actually on a farm, these places held a special place in my heart.
The loss of farmland I witnessed unfolding on the landscape is a trend all across our region, the state, and the nation. I worked for nearly ten years in land use planning with the goal of helping our community become vibrant while supporting the protection of the farmland that remained. Luckily, I found my place here at the Land Conservancy, where I am honored to work with our farmers to permanently protect their land from development.
So how do we save a farm? It usually starts when a farmer reaches out to us. We have them fill out a survey to tell us about their farm, the land, and their plans for the future. We use this information to evaluate and rank the farms and we check to see if the farm is a good match for open grant rounds. Most of our farms are protected with funding from the NYS Farmland Protection Implementation Grant (FPIG). This program pays for all the project costs like surveys and appraisals, but also pays the farmer for protecting their farm. This helps farmers by providing them with money to reinvest in the farm, pay off debts, save for retirement, and more.
Through this grant, the farm becomes protected forever with a conservation easement, a legal agreement that limits development of the land. The easement allows farmers to live and work on the farm, but it prevents the land from being subdivided or developed for anything other than farming. Thanks to conservation easements, future WNYers will always have access to fresh, locally grown food.
Since we first started protecting land more than 30 years ago, the Land Conservancy has conserved 45 farms (nearly 4000 acres) with conservation easements. In addition, we have 11 projects underway that will protect an additional 1,500 acres of fertile farmland. We are so thankful to the farmers who have chosen to save their land and we are delighted to be able to secure not only their land, but their legacy. There are many farms that still need saving, and we want to help. To find out if we can save your land, please fill out our survey and let us know more about your land.
This story first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of The Resource, the Land Conservancy's twice-yearly publication.