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Save it or lose it


Plan to preserve county’s farmland open to public input

COLUMBIA COUNTY—Farmers need land to produce food. We need food and the farmers who produce it.

It seems simple and a good reason to figure out how to save Columbia County farmland, because like most natural resources, once it’s gone there’s no getting it back.

County officials have formed a coalition to craft a Farmland Protection Plan to support and promote local agriculture. The process of developing this plan will take 18 months, and supporters of the planning process believe its success will depend upon broad public input, especially from the farm community.

With that in mind, five public meetings are scheduled over the next three months, and a survey is being mailed to more than 500 agricultural producers to assess the state of local agriculture and design the county-wide plan. The first public meeting is this Saturday, January 22, from 10 a.m. to noon at the North Chatham Firehouse, 653 County Route 32. The snow date is Monday, January 24, 7 to 9 p.m.

The county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board (AFPB) was established in 1993 under state Agriculture and Markets Law. The board, which acts in an advisory capacity to the county Board of Supervisors, has a hand in the review and modification of local agricultural districts, and any other agricultural-related issues that arise. The AFPB was also initially charged with developing a county Farmland Protection Plan. But the plan only made it as far as a draft version and was never finished.

“We were always a bridesmaid and never a bride,” said Columbia County Cooperative Extension Educator Steve Hadcock, who serves on the AFPB. He recalled that other issues diverted the board’s attention.

But last summer, the county was awarded a $37,500 matching funds grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to move forward with the plan with the assistance of Todd Erling, executive director of the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation. The Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board asked Mr. Earling’s organization to put together the grant application along with a “workscope,” a time line and to see the process through, said Mr. Erling, who heads up the committee working on the plan.

The farmland plan will contain priorities identified by communities, towns, farmers and residents, along with strategies and action items to be implemented. It will be a multi-facetted approach to preserving farmland and active farming, Mr. Erling said.

But one practical reason for coming up with a Farmland Protection Plan is that it is a requirement for eligibility for grants and funding programs. Applications for grants and other funds refer to the Farmland Protection Plan as a document supportive of a municipality’s farming efforts and without it the county can be left out of funding opportunities, he said.

“Farming is an important engine of economic activity and with strategic planning it could play a larger, more beneficial role in our economy,” Ken Flood, the county commissioner of Planning and Economic Development, said in a press release announcing the Farmland Protection Plan meetings..

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in the county’s economy. As of 2007, there were 554 farms in Columbia County, which generated $66 million in annual revenue. As the demand for local and healthy food increases, a smart farming plan will ensure that the county’s economy grows along with it. Over the past 10 years, New York farmers had a 57% increase in annual direct market sales.

Working farmland nets greater revenue for county and municipal budgets than industrial or residential properties. Working land produces the most tax revenue for the services needed, according to the release.

Columbia Land Conservancy Executive Director Peter Paden believes that developing a county plan is important, but that the process will be just as important as the document that emerges.

“It will generate public interest, support and conversation about a vision for our farming future,” he said. Mr. Paden also pointed to the importance of having farmers and people “close to the farming community” involved with the formation of the plan.

One farmer on the AFPB is Ancramdale Dairyman Lowell “Jim” Davenport, who said the importance of protecting farmland comes down to the production of food in this country: “It’s something we have to have.

“Farmers are stewards of the land,” he said, “and there is nothing better than a well-run farm for land use.”

As a farmer, Mr. Davenport sees himself as the connection between agriculture and the general public. “I think the general public appreciates now more than ever having a good local regulated food supply.”

Despite the ever-improving efficiency of agricultural operations, Mr. Davenport notes that he works harder at farming than he would at another job for comparable pay. For him, “it’s not about the money, it’s about being at the root of civilization and not the bane of it,” he said.

Anyone involved in or concerned about farming is encouraged to attend one or more of the public meetings that will shape the farmland protection plan.

Other meetings are scheduled for:

* Thursday, February 3, 7 to 9 p.m., Cornell Cooperative Extension, 479

Route 66, Claverack, snow date Saturday, February 5, 10 a.m. to noon.

*Saturday, February 19, 10 a.m. to noon, Copake Town Hall, 230 Mountain

View Road, snow date Tuesday, February 22, 7 to 9 p.m.

*Thursday, March 3, 7 to 9 p.m., Kellner Activities Building, 54 Palatine

Park Road, Germantown, snow date Saturday, March 5, 10 a.m. to noon.

*Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m. to noon, Stuyvesant Town Hall, 5 Sunset

Drive, snow date Monday, March 21, 7 to 9 p.m.

For more information contact, Ellen Jouret-Epstein, Columbia Land

Conservancy’s land protection manager at (518)392-5252 X 208 or

To contact Diane Valden email

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