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. #nofarmsnofood
First Generation Farmers Operate a Thriving Farm
Hearty Roots Community Farm is a CSA located on 70 acres of protected farmland in Clermont, New York, in the mid-Hudson Valley. The farm is owned and operated by Ben Shute and his wife Lindsey Lusher Shute, who is also Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. The Shutes grow vegetables and raise laying hens that produce eggs, providing food for 550 CSA members in the Hudson Valley and New York City. The farm also grows fresh produce to feed the hungry. This produce, paid for by the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP), is distributed to those in need through 5 food pantries in New York City. Hearty Roots Community Farm is thriving and many are benefiting from consuming the nutritious food grown on the farm.
Farmland Conservation and Community
Things weren’t always going so well for Ben and Lindsey. As beginning farmers they did not have access to family farmland. They started their farm on leased farmland but felt their situation as renters was too tenuous to make the investments in infrastructure necessary to grow their business. In order to grow they needed to buy land.
Basically any land suited for vegetable production was unaffordable to us.”
But, as beginning farmers, how could they ever afford it? “Land in the vicinity of our customer base sells for $8,000 to $10,000 an acre,” explains Lindsey. “Basically any land suited for vegetable production was unaffordable to us.”
Enter regional land trust Scenic Hudson and a generous Hudson Valley landowner who wanted to see sustainable agriculture take root in her town and form a foundation for a strong local economy. “We had essentially been searching for property unsuccessfully until we were connected with this landowner who had secured very large parcel of land in Columbia County,” explains Lindsey. “A developer was putting 50 houses on it. This woman, who had been a CSA member of ours, didn’t want that to happen so she bought it.” The conservation-minded landowner had been renting the land she purchased to local farmers for several years when Scenic Hudson approached her about placing a conservation easement on the land to permanently protect it from development.
The unprotected land was appraised at $7,500 an acre. The development rights were purchased by Scenic Hudson for $4,000 an acre with funds from the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The landowner then turned around and sold the land now under easement to two farms, one of which was Hearty Roots Community Farm. “We purchased 70 acres of the protected land for $3,500 an acre. The landowner really did us a huge favor selling it to us at that price. Around here people from New York City often pay high prices for protected farms which they use as summer homes. If she had waited and sold the land on the open market there was no doubt that she could have gotten a lot more money.” But, according to Lindsey, “the landowner supports local farming and sustainable agriculture and wanted to do something really good for her town. She’s interested in having a real farm business on this property that is making very high quality food available to the community.”
Growing Local Food to Feed the Hungry
The United States Department of Agriculture reports that 2 million New Yorkers, 12 percent of the state’s population, do not always have enough money to buy the food necessary to meet their basic nutritional needs. As part of a state-wide initiative to provide nutritious food grown in New York to people in need Hearty Roots Community Farm delivers produce to 5 food pantries in New York City. The food is purchased from the farm with funding from the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). This 25 year old program, funded by the state and federal government, purchases food for those in need which is then distributed through 2,600 emergency food relief organizations across the state, including food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters. As part of an effort to improve the nutritional value of food served as part of hunger relief efforts, HPNAP, along with the Food Bank Association of New York State, have encouraged its contractors to purchase fresh produce grown in New York State since 2009. Channeling hunger relief funds to local farmers in the form of revenue helps make farms in New York become more profitable while ensuring that fresh, nutritious locally grown food gets to the people who need it. Local farmland conservation efforts working with public funding for farmland preservation have played a key role in this common sense solution to hunger.
“A developer was going to put 50 houses on it. This woman, who had been a CSA member of ours, didn’t want that to happen so she bought it.”
Farming for the Future
Hearty Roots Community Farm uses sustainable practices to provide fresh food and a healthy environment for friends and neighbors in the Hudson Valley and New York City. The fact farm has been permanently protected from development with an agricultural conservation easement made the land more affordable for these beginning farmers. Today Ben and Lindsey are striving take the protection of their land one step further. They are working with Scenic Hudson and Equity Trust to add an ‘option to purchase at agricultural value’ (OPAV) to their conservation easement ensuring that their farmland can only be sold to another farmer.
For information about joining Hearty Roots Community Farm go here: http://www.heartyroots.com/csa/