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Connecting with Nature, Building the Next Generation of Conservationists: Rachel Chrostowski, Farmland Conservation Director

Updated: Apr 9

When she was a kid, Rachel Chrostowski played along creek banks with her little brother. They lifted rocks in search of crayfish and fossils and built forts beneath enormous weeping willows. Other times they took long nature walks at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga. As the daughter of a single working mom, Rachel spent many summer days at her grandmother’s home in Wyoming County, playing in the woods with her brother and cousins, and chasing one another with the cicada shells they found clinging to tree trunks. Being outdoors, connecting with nature, was her favorite part of childhood.

On drives to her grandmother’s house, she marveled at how the highly developed, suburban landscape gave way to acres of corn and pastures dotted with cows. Gradually, though, things began to change. “Where barns once stood,” she says, “there were now single-family houses all along the road. Rolling farm fields turned into residential subdivisions.” When she moved to Marilla in high school, many of her new classmates were farmers, and it was through them that she began to better understand both the significance of agriculture and the developmental pressure farmers faced. “Farming was a way of life and a connection to the land that I hadn’t had a chance to experience for myself,” she says, “and I was sad to see things changing. I wondered if anyone could slow the pace of development down.”

Since then, much of Rachel’s experience has prepared her for the absolutely critical work she does as the Farmland Conservation Director, from her B.A. in Geography at SUNY Geneseo to her ten years as a land use planner in Erie and Livingston counties. She has become, in essence, the very person she wondered about so many years ago. By working with farmers to permanently protect their land, she helps them do what they do best—provide us with the fresh, local food we all need to thrive—while easing the crush of developmental pressure in Western New York.

How does Rachel do it? When a farmer decides permanent conservation is right for them, she puts together grant applications for funding. Once a project is funded, she ensures that all of the necessary due diligence is completed: title review, survey, environmental site assessments, baseline documentation reporting, appraisals, etc. Because it’s an important job with many moving parts, it’s a great thing that she’s super organized and always prepared.

Rachel has been with the Land Conservancy since 2015, and during that time she has watched the organization grow in leaps and bounds—something she’s very proud of. Now that her 3-year-old son is beginning to explore nature, growing in his own leaps and bounds, she gets to experience the wonder of the natural world once more through a child’s eyes. That motivates her to find additional ways for him to connect with nature, much as she did when she was his age.

This connectivity is huge to her. After all, she says, “By providing lots of opportunities for connection, I think we can help bring about the next generation of conservationists.”

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