Director of Communications, Scenic Hudson, Inc.
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Provides blueprint for ramping up farmland protection, securing land that supplies fresh, local food to New York City, Hudson Valley
HUDSON VALLEY—Scenic Hudson has released a groundbreaking study that for the first time provides reliable data on what Hudson Valley farmland must be conserved to ensure that the people of New York City and the region can continue to count on nearby supplies of fresh food.
Scenic Hudson's foodshed study is being issued just as many farmers' markets and Community Supported Agriculture operations reopen for the year, offering people the season's first supplies of fresh produce from local farms. Entitled "Securing Fresh, Local Food for New York City and the Hudson Valley: A Foodshed Conservation Plan for the Region," the study offers a blueprint for ramping up collaborative farmland-protection efforts, detailing the stepped-up roles that land trusts, governments, philanthropies and farmers must play.
While various studies in the valley and nation have focused on ways to enhance regional food systems and distribution of produce grown on local farms, this is the first study in the Northeast, and likely the country, to develop a comprehensive, data-driven methodology for strategically protecting the farmland—the most fundamental ingredient for securing the productive capacity of the metropolitan region's foodshed.
Perhaps most important, the study prioritizes unprotected farmland throughout the valley, enabling stakeholders to strategically direct available resources to conserve those clusters of farms that will make the biggest difference in meeting increasing demands for local food. In addition, it offers a cost estimate for preserving this land. Conserving this unique asset is a crucial yet often overlooked element of creating a truly sustainable regional food system.
Underwritten by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the 16-page study features maps and colorful graphics that illustrate key points of its findings. It is available online at www.scenichudson.org/foodshedplan.
Study provides framework for new, strategic farmland-protection initiative
Scenic Hudson undertook the study after recognizing the need for a new, strategic initiative to conserve a critical mass of the region's threatened farmland. While some conservation initiatives have been regional and strategic, more often farmland has been conserved primarily on a local and often opportunistic basis. While this has resulted in the protection of more than 80,000 agricultural acres—including nearly 11,000 acres by Scenic Hudson—it represents only 11 percent of the region's total farmland, and falls far short of the acreage needed to meet even current needs for local food. A 2010 report by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn estimates unmet annual demand for regionally produced food in the city alone at $600 million.
"Scenic Hudson's Foodshed Conservation Plan provides the data, rationale and strategy to take farmland protection in the region to a whole new level. It communicates the urgency of conserving our family farms, the foundation of the region's robust agricultural economy, and offers a method for prioritizing farmland protection to ensure the greatest possible public and economic benefits from stakeholders' investments. What's more, its rigorous methodology and regional scale should attract new partners—including individuals, foundations and New York City—critical for achieving the goals of this historic plan," said Steve Rosenberg, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust.
Conserved farmland offers substantial economic benefits. In addition to being the backbone of the valley's $800-million agricultural economy, it is critical to the region's $4.2-billion tourism industry. It supports local economies, with an estimated $4 returned to communities for every $1 invested in conservation. And by requiring fewer municipal services than most traditional development, it helps keep property taxes low. Preserving farms via conservation easements helps sustain the viability of existing farms and keeps the land available for the next generation of farmers.
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Program Director for the Environment Andrew Bowman praised the report the foundation underwrote. "The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation believes that data-driven, spatially explicit strategies for land conservation are the best means of insuring that scarce public and private resources are invested wisely and efficiently. We are proud to have supported Scenic Hudson's development of a cutting-edge plan for protecting one of our most important natural resources: the farmland from which our region gets it food. We are confident it will provide the platform for many others to participate in conserving the region's foodshed."
Methodology indicates farms most critical to save
Focusing on the 11-county Hudson Valley region, Scenic Hudson utilized GIS technology to locate all parcels of unprotected farmland of 45 acres or greater within a 150-mile radius of New York City. With data from the state Department of Agriculture & Markets, it determined the quality of soils on each farm. It then developed a numerical method for prioritizing the protection of farms based on their size and soil quality, as well as the density of farms in the area.
The study's findings indicate that to date, of the 5,387 farms located within the region, only 11 percent have been conserved. It identifies 815 farms totaling 212,047 acres as "highest priority" for conservation and an additional 1,970 farms totaling 263,333 acres as "high priority" for conservation.
The study importantly pinpoints nine areas containing the greatest density of "highest priority" farmland. It concludes that the 163,673 acres on the 614 "highest priority" farms within these "clusters" should be the focus of the new strategic approach to conserve the region's farmland.
Based on Scenic Hudson's own extensive knowledge of the market and interviews with expert appraisers, the study estimates it will cost $720 million to conserve all 163,673 acres.
While the study concentrates on agricultural land in the Hudson Valley, its methodology could be replicated in other areas of the region—Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island—located within New York City's foodshed.
Study makes innovative funding recommendations
The Foodshed Conservation Plan also provides a framework for stakeholders, including farmers, land trusts and government—federal, state, county and local—to strengthen their support for protecting the region's farmland. It stresses that existing federal, state and local programs must be well-functioning and adequately funded. A supplemental study focusing on an innovative financing approach involving collaboration between county governments and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation will be issued in July.
Among the foodshed plan's most innovative recommendations:
- A call for New York City to participate with other partners in funding the conservation of the critical farmland on which its 9 million residents depend for much of their fresh, local food. Noting that the city has invested many millions of dollars to preserve watershed lands around its upstate reservoirs, the plan notes that a city commitment to protecting its foodshed would be a "game changer," assuring local food supplies reach urban food deserts and leveraging substantial additional support from other public and private sources.
- Increased investment from foundations and other private philanthropy, perhaps through a pooled fund that would match public investments in protecting the foodshed.
- The need for advocates for all aspects of creating a sustainable regional food system—whether achieving greater food justice, creating efficient distribution networks or ensuring that farmers' markets have a level playing field to compete in the marketplace—come together in support of each other's efforts.
- Standardizing financing structures for protecting farmland that would attract individual investors driven by a desire to achieve "triple bottom line"—social, environmental and economic objectives.
"While development pressure on the region's farms has momentarily abated, population pressure has not—meaning it's only a matter of time before productive farmland becomes the renewed focus of subdivision plans. This Foodshed Conservation Plan provides a sound blueprint for ramping up farmland protection efforts. A broad-based collaborative effort to implement it is essential before the opportunity slips away," said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.
Experts and Leaders Praise "Foodshed" Conservation Plan and Cite Positive Impacts Expected
FARM AND FOOD EXPERTS
Best-selling author and professor Michael Pollan—"The concept of a foodshed offers opportunities for both urban and rural communities to recognize what connects them and how they can work together to build vibrant local economies. But we need to move swiftly to assess the state of our foodsheds and then move to conserve them—few steps could do more than to improve the health of people in cities and the health of the rural landscape.
American Farmland Trust New York State Director David Haight—"Soil and water are natural ingredients essential for growing local food. However, the reality is that more than 80 percent of the fruits and 70 percent of the vegetables produced in New York are grown in places like the Hudson Valley that lie directly in the path of real estate development. New Yorkers must take action to protect this farmland before it is too late—as we like to say, 'No Farms, No Food.'"
Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth—"Scenic Hudson is a land trust leader. Its Foodshed Conservation Plan for New York City and the Hudson Valley makes the critical connection between the demand in our major metropolitan areas for fresh, local food and the farmland nearby that is needed to meet that demand. Land trusts and farm families all across the country are partnering to conserve the lands where much of our food is grown. This innovative plan is a model that cities nationwide can use to ensure that our precious farmland will be here to stay."
National Young Farmers Coalition Executive Director and Co-Founder Lindsey Lusher Shute—"More than 70 percent of our farms are going to change hands in the next 20 years. If we want to continue to have productive farms in the foodshed, it's critical that we keep the land affordable for the next generation of farmers."
Migliorelli Farm (Red Hook) Owner-Operator and NYC Greenmarkets vendor Ken Migliorelli—"I've placed conservation easements on my own farmland, and I always encourage other farm families to do the same. It's the only way we can protect the precious prime soils in our farming communities from development, and it helps to hold together the foundations of our local farm economy."
Director of the Local Economies Project at The New World Foundation Bob Dandrew—"The New World Foundation's Local Economies Project envisions a region where family farms and related businesses are at the heart of a sustainable regional food system. Scenic Hudson's innovative strategic conservation model is a road map for smart investing to achieve this vision. We look forward to working with them to help make that happen here in the Hudson Valley."
New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg—"All New Yorkers, including low-income New Yorkers, rely upon vibrant farms to be able to provide fresh, nutritious foods. That's why all of us need to support farmland preservation. Likewise, farmers need healthy consumers to survive, and reducing hunger is in their self-interest. Consequently, this report's call to preserve farmland is right on the money and should be incorporated into all plans to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to affordable, nutritious foods."
Slow Food USA Northeast Regional Director Ed Yowell—"Preserving our regional farmland is becoming a popular mantra, but tough questions, like which farms on how much land, where and when, have been left to the randomness of unique opportunities. Scenic Hudson has taken an innovative shot at creating a strategic farm preservation methodology that could guide preservation in the city's traditional foodsheds and be a model for replication in highly threatened farm areas elsewhere."
Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation Executive Director Todd Erling—"Protecting our farmland is a critical step which can support our regional food systems and ensure that our farm families can make a living as viable partners in a sustainable economic future."
NY Farm Bureau of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties President Mark Adams—"The Hudson Valley is blessed with some of the world's most productive farmland. We need to keep this land available for the upcoming generation of farmers who are willing and eager to produce delicious, healthy local food."
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand—"New York is home to America's hardest working farm families and the world's finest locally-grown produce. We need to take strong actions to protect the Hudson Valley's farms and orchards, in turn strengthening rural economies, preserving our agricultural heritage and providing our families with high-quality food grown right in our own communities."
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel—"Scenic Hudson has developed a detailed plan for protecting and enhancing a downstate food supply, and I fully support their efforts. There are few aspects of our survival more important than an adequate and untainted food supply for our growing population. Their plan to do this and also protect the environment makes it doubly important. I applaud Scenic Hudson and will continue to do my part in Congress to provide for a thriving and healthy food supply for the people of New York City and the Hudson Valley for generations to come."
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson—"Scenic Hudson's innovative Foodshed Conservation Plan should propel future efforts to protect farmland here in the Hudson Valley. We are blessed in our region to have vibrant, active family farms, and it is essential we work together to secure their future. I look forward to continuing to work with all the partners engaged in this critical effort."
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey—"Working farms in the Hudson River Valley have long provided abundant and high-quality products for our region and country. With growing demand for fresh, local foods at farmers' markets and restaurants, our region's working farms are set to seize this significant economic opportunity. I applaud Scenic Hudson for creating a regional vision of farmland preservation that will keep more of our working farms working and grow the Hudson River Valley economy."
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney—"Our farms in the Hudson Valley are the breadbasket of the region and add tens of millions of dollars to the local economy. Scenic Hudson's new Foodshed Conservation Plan will increase the momentum of public-private partnerships that will invest in our region's economy while protecting the rich agricultural history of the Hudson Valley."
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko—"Collaboration is central to protecting the Hudson Valley's rich agricultural lands, and Scenic Hudson's Foodshed Conservation Plan shows how partners can maximize their investment—conserving more farmland that sustains jobs, helps keep our air and water clean, and supplies our residents with the freshest, healthiest foods."