For Gary and Karen Gulliver, of Gulliver Farms, it is all about the land. Their family has been farming in Cayuga County in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, since the 1950s. Thanks to funding from the state’s Farmland Protection Program, which enabled local partners to purchase a conservation easement on over 1,000 acres of the Gullivers’ farmland, the land will continue to be farmed for generations to come.
“This land here in Cayuga County is some of the best farmland in the country,” explained Karen Gulliver. “We wanted to make sure it didn’t get whittled away. We wanted to do what we could to protect it.”
New York’s 7 million acres of farmland support 30,000 farms which generate over $5 billion in economic activity annually and serve as the cornerstone of the state’s $46.7 billion farm and food economy. Governor Cuomo, recognizing the opportunity for growth, has launched agricultural economic development initiatives in Greek yogurt and on-farm wine, beer and spirit production as well as programs promoting New York produced foods, such as Fresh Connect and Taste NY.
Yet, the farmland that forms the foundation of New York’s growing farm and food economy continues to be paved over by suburban sprawl at the alarming rate of one farm every 3 ½ days. New York State has lost nearly half a million acres of irreplaceable farmland to shopping malls and housing developments since the 1980s.
In 1996, New York State established a Farmland Protection Program to stop the loss of farmland to poorly planned development. Over the years the program has funded the permanent protection of over 73,000 acres of irreplaceable farmland with conservation easements. But when funding for the Farmland Protection Program was slashed during the economic meltdown of 2008 the Department of Agriculture and Markets stopped taking new applications for farmland conservation projects. Since then, the Cuomo Administration, with the support of the state legislature, has started to rebuild funding for the program and worked diligently to reduce outstanding commitments.
Gulliver Farm is one of 29 farms protected with funding from the state’s Farmland Protection Program since 2011. These farms comprise nearly 8,000 acres of productive agricultural land across the state. By the end of the year, the Farmland Protection Program is projected to have less than 20 outstanding commitments requiring $20 million in state funds. Local land trusts and municipalities report that farmers across New York are interested in permanently protecting their farmland from development with conservation easements but have not had the opportunity. Many of these families plan to use the funds they receive in exchange for placing a conservation easement on their land to reinvest in their farms by upgrading farm equipment, constructing new farm buildings and purchasing additional farmland.
American Farmland Trust, and its local partners have urged Governor Cuomo and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to jumpstart the state’s Farmland Protection Program by requesting new funding applications before the end of 2013. It is time to start protecting farms again in New York State. Remember—No Farms No Food!