Want Local Food? Got to have Local Farmland!
Our food comes from farmland—and we are losing farmland fast. New York State has lost half a million acres of farmland to suburban sprawl since the 1980s. That’s the equivalent of 4,500 farms. We have to stop losing farmland now. Don’t let concrete be the last crop.
Farmland is most vulnerable to being lost to development when it comes time for the farmer that works the land to retire.
“We have a graying of our farmer population.”—David Haight, NYS Director, American Farmland Trust
With nearly 25 percent of the farmland in New York State owned by farmers aged 65 and older millions of acres of land on thousands of farms will be at risk of being lost to development in the next two decades.
At the same time, thanks to New York’s dynamic local food movement, hundreds of young people who are not from traditional agricultural backgrounds are seeking land on which to start their farms. Recent reports show that access to affordable farmland is one of the biggest hurdles facing young farmers.
Communities that want to preserve their agricultural heritage and rural character are jumping into the fray, getting involved in saving farmland by setting up local funding programs that protect agricultural land at risk of being lost to development and making it available to young farmers just starting out.
Farmers Steve Blabac and Erin Grimley came to the Town of Clarence., in Erie County near the City of Buffalo, to start up Root Down Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture farm. The young farmers were attracted to the town by the Clarence Greenprint, a local farmland conservation program funded by a $12.5 million bond the town approved in 2002 to protect open space and farmland through the purchase of conservation easements.
“I watched family farms closing back home and it had an effect on me.”—Steve Blabac, farmer
The Western New York Land Conservancy, a land trusts that preserves farmland and open space, was instrumental both in the design of the Greenprint and recruiting the new farmers. When Steve came to them looking for land to farm the Western New York Land Conservancy pointed him toward Clarence.
Clarence credits the Greenprint Program for the town’s nearly 15 percent increase in property values next to conserved land and property tax rates that are 30 percent less than those in comparable towns in the region.
“This land faces significant development pressure. We want to be part of the effort to preserve the rural nature of this town and its agricultural character.” –Erin Grimley, farmer