Land Deal Enables Young Farmers to Purchase Farmland, Protects Important Hudson River Tributary

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 -- Scenic Hudson
Contact: 

Jay Burgess
Director of Communications, Scenic Hudson, Inc.
Tel: (845) 473-4440 x222 Cell: (914) 489-0362 Fax: (845) 473-0740
jburgess@scenichudson.org

Wyda Farm Property

The newly protected farmland was historically known as Wyda Farm (photo: Nathaniel Nardi-Cyrus).

Operations supplies local farmers markets and bakeries, NYC restaurants

GREENPORT (COLUMBIA COUNTY)—Taking another step in its campaign to Save the Land That Matters Most and preserve productive agricultural lands within the New York City/Hudson Valley foodshed, Scenic Hudson has acquired a conservation easement protecting 62 acres of productive farm fields and watershed lands in Greenport, just south of the City of Hudson. The easement’s purchase enabled a group of young farmers who had been leasing the property to purchase it, securing the future of their farm operations.

Known as the Letterbox Farm Collective, the farm partners supply specialty vegetables, herbs, pork, poultry, rabbits and eggs to a variety of regional and New York City markets—local bakeries and food trucks, many restaurants (including New York City’s renowned Momofuku restaurants) and two farmers’ markets. In the spring the farmers will launch a diversified Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.

Easement also protects town’s public water supply, views from Olana

The newly protected property—historically known as Wyda Farm—features 26 acres of USDA or state-designated prime agricultural soils as well as forested slopes and wetlands adjacent to South Bay Creek. This significant Hudson River tributary feeds South Bay, a valuable wetland at the gateway to the City of Hudson. The property also buffers adjacent lands containing the wellheads that supply Greenport’s drinking water.

In addition, the land is prominently visible from Olana State Historic Site, the 19th-century mansion and designed landscape created by seminal Hudson River School landscape painter Frederic E. Church. As well as safeguarding spectacular vistas from Olana that contribute to its popularity as one of the region’s top tourism destinations, the easement protects long-distance views of the Catskill Mountains from well-traveled U.S. Route 9.

Simultaneous easement facilitates creation of new trail

Scenic Hudson simultaneously acquired a public access easement that will allow for the future creation of a public walking trail and trailhead into 321 acres of scenic, ecologically important lands the organization has protected along South Bay Creek. This supports a long-term goal of establishing a cultural and conservation corridor between downtown Hudson, South Bay Creek, Olana State Historic Site, the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, the Village of Catskill and Scenic Hudson’s RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary.

Scenic Hudson Senior Land Project Manager Kelly Boling negotiated the transaction, and Northeast Farm Access, LLC, provided technical assistance to Letterbox Farm Collective in purchasing the property.

Deal has strong economic upside

“By supporting local agriculture, protecting world-class views, buffering Hudson River tributaries and connecting people to the Hudson Valley’s natural treasures, this acquisition highlights the important role that protecting land plays in sustaining the region’s health and economic prosperity. Placing a trailhead next to working farm fields will allow future visitors to experience two critical aspects of Scenic Hudson’s mission—keeping working farms in business and connecting people to the valley’s natural beauty and wildlife,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.

“Achieving the goal of Scenic Hudson’s Foodshed Conservation Plan—meeting the growing demand for fresh, local food in the Hudson Valley and New York City—depends on successful partnerships like this, which provides a stable base of operations for the dedicated young farmers in the Letterbox Farm Collective. We also thank these farmers for enabling a future public access point to our protected lands along South Bay Creek, which present exciting opportunities for Hudson residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors,” said Steve Rosenberg, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust.

“We had already been leasing and farming this site for two seasons when the land came up for sale. Without Scenic Hudson it would have been impossible for us to keep farming here. The price of the farm reflected its development value, which was much higher than we could afford as new farmers. Scenic Hudson worked with us to purchase the development rights, which brought the price down to the realm of possibility for our young operation. We were lucky to have Scenic Hudson with us while we gathered our financing and at the closing table when the moment came and we were able to buy our land,” said Letterbox’s Faith Gilbert.

The transaction is part of Scenic Hudson’s collaborative campaign to Save the Land That Matters Most, which seeks to protect lands of the highest scenic, ecological and agricultural importance throughout the Hudson Valley. It also supports the goals of the organization’s groundbreaking Foodshed Conservation Plan (www.scenichudson.org/foodshedplan), a blueprint for ramping up collaborative farmland-protection efforts to create a secure source of fresh, local food for the Hudson Valley and New York City.

While providing significant resources to help farmers continue their livelihoods and support the viability of agriculture-related businesses, protected farmland contributes substantially to the region’s $800-million agricultural and $4.75-billion tourism economies. Further, conserving farms is a buffer against rising local property taxes: Studies have shown that farms contribute more in taxes than they consume in tax-paid services.

Over the past 15 years, conservation easement programs in the Hudson Valley have put more than $100 million directly into the hands of farmers. This investment has allowed agriculture to continue to thrive, advanced new opportunities for young farmers and allowed farmers to invest directly in their operations. At the same time, it has benefited communities. According to the American Farmland Trust, for every $1 invested in conservation, $4 is returned to the local economy.

Making New York’s farmland affordable to the next generation of farmers is especially critical. The 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture reports that 30 percent of the state’s farmers are age 65 or older, with another 30 percent between the ages of 55 and 64. This means that more than half of the 7 million acres of farmland currently in agricultural production throughout New York will need to transition to new farmers in the next decade.

Scenic Hudson completed the transaction with funds from its Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Hudson Valley Land Preservation Endowment.

About Scenic Hudson

Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 65 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved over 35,000 acres.

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