DOAG: PROTECTION OF FARMS TO BE ACCELERATED THROUGH DOAG’S FARMLAND PRESERVATION PROGRAM

                       

                              This article appeared in the July 2, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report

 

               PROTECTION OF FARMS TO BE ACCELERATED THROUGH DOAG’S

                            FARMLAND PRESERVATION PROGRAM

             By Steve Jensen, Office of DoAg Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky 

 

The fire that burned their dairy barn to the ground on the third day of summer 2000 effectively ended the milking operation that had been in the McCaw family since 1959. 

 

Owner Jim McCaw turned to raising hay and a few dozen beef cattle as he and other family members debated the long-term fate of the 158-acre farm abutting the historic Lebanon Town Green.

 

Over the years, attractive offers from homebuilders and even a golf course developer drifted in and out. But late last month, the family decided that they would keep the farm in production forever by selling its development rights to the state under an agreement with the town and the Department of Agriculture’s (DoAg) Farmland Preservation Program (FPP).

 

The main motivation for the decision was to prevent houses from sprouting up in the crop fields, and to leave the timeless vista from the Green unspoiled. 

 

“I always thought it would be a shame to see rooftops out here in the fields,” McCaw said this week as he finished up harvesting the season’s first cut of hay, including about 10 acres grown on the Green itself.

 

Under a centuries-old agreement, property owners along the Green are given cultivation rights to the hay grown there. The town’s allegiance to its rich agricultural history is also evidenced by its partnership in several FPP transactions, including McCaw’s.

 

The farm was once owned by Jonathan Trumbull Jr., son of Connecticut's Revolutionary War Governor, who also served as Gen. George Washington's secretary during the war and later became governor himself. The McCaw property is one of six across the state that have been protected this year under the FPP, which soon will reach milestones of 300 preserved farms encompassing 40,000 acres since its inception in 1978.

 

The program allows farmers to convey development rights to the state, but still own and work the land. Owners also may convey their land to others, but a permanent deed restriction assures the property will remain only in agriculture. 

 

DoAg Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said he is accelerating use of the program with the goal of protecting approximately 30 farms over the next two years. Reviczky recently reached an agreement with federal agricultural officials that gave DoAg access to $8 million in reimbursement funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

           

“Every farm and every farm family is unique,” Reviczky said. “But what every one participating in this program have in common is a desire to protect important farmlands in perpetuity, and we are making every effort to help them do just that.”

           

Another 350 acres of Lebanon farmland also was protected by the state last month through a joint effort by DoAg, the town and the CT Farmland Trust involving three properties owned and formerly farmed for dairy by the Williams family. Those transactions bring the total amount of protected farms in Lebanon to 32, covering more than 4,000 acres.

           

Williams Farm 1 comprises 65 acres and a cluster of agricultural buildings on the north side of Goshen Hill Road. Once the largest working dairy farm in town, the Williams family sold its herd in 2008 and most recently leased the land to a local dairy farmer who keeps a small herd and raises corn and hay.

           

About 48 acres of the site contain prime and statewide important soils. The property also houses four barns of between 5,000 and 33,000 square feet, two large garages, a workshop, and a concrete silage bunker and silo.

           

It is adjacent to the 219-acre Szajda Farm that was protected under the FPP in 2011. Directly across Goshen Hill Road is Williams Farm 2, an 88-acre property that is nearly all prime and statewide important soils.

           

The third Williams property is a 203-acre parcel on the east side of Route 87 near the intersection with Route 207. That site contains about 147 acres of prime and statewide important soils, as well as 28 acres of locally-important soils.           

           

It is also adjacent to the 57-acre Cyr Farm, which was protected by the CT Farmland Trust in 2010. The land has been in agricultural production since the early 1900s, and the northern half was used as a topsoil and gravel mine for many years.

           

Lebanon First Selectman Joyce Okonuk said protection of both the McCaw and Williams farms is a significant accomplishment that further demonstrates the town’s dedication to continuing its extraordinary agricultural legacy.  

 

“These farms are invaluable historical and agricultural resources,” she said. “Our entire community should be proud that this collaborative effort will ensure that these properties will continue to be productive and protected from future development.”

           

The other farms protected so far this year under the FPP are:

 

· Charter Farm: Egypt Road, Ellington and Somers Road (Route 83), Somers 

           

The 81-acre parcel straddling the Ellington/Somers line has been farmed by the Charter family since the 17th century. Considered to be perhaps the oldest dairy farm in the area, it more recently has been known as Charter Acres Beef, where owners Peter and Verna Charter raise and sell free-range beef, as well as cultivate hay and straw. About 64 acres are prime and statewide important soils.

 

The town of Ellington also was a partner in the transaction through a bond authorization approved by voters.

 

· Maddox Farm: Maddox Road, Bethlehem

 

A 53-acre property, also known as Sun One Organic Farm. It had been in dairy production from the 1890s to the mid-1980s and more recently has grown organic vegetables, herbs and fruit, with a portion leased to another farm to raise hay.

 

Approximately 31 acres are prime and statewide important soils. The site also includes a 2,400 square-foot storage building, a garage, three silos and several small outbuildings. It is the third farm in town preserved under the FPP. Owner Robert Maddox Jr., said in his FPP application that he wants to ensure that “the farm is permanently protected for future generations to use for food production.” 

 

Jim McCaw says he isn’t exactly sure who will take over his Lebanon farm when he finally retires. Two of his grandchildren who are involved in farming in another part of the state might be interested, and there is no shortage of local farmers willing to lease his property to raise crops.

           

But for now, he will still be busy raising beef cattle and growing hay that he sells to other farmers and to horse owners all over the state.

 

“I’m 78, and a half-day of work feels like a full day now,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve done my time. But the plan is to keep doing what we’re doing as long as we can until it’s time for somebody else to take over.”