The Lasting Legacy of the First Farmland Preservation Program

Drive via New York’s western Long Island on any given afternoon—notably as rush hour approaches—and also you’ll be moved not by the idyllic rolling hills of verdant farmland however, fairly, by the throb of visitors on the LIE (native parlance for the ever-crowded freeway often called the Long Island Expressway). 

The densely populated, 118-mile-long island, which stretches east from New York City to the outer reaches of Greenport and Montauk, was as soon as dwelling to an agrarian life-style. Then, in 1947, 4,000 acres of potato farms in Nassau County have been transformed into what could be often called the nation’s first suburban neighborhood: Levittown. That deliberate neighborhood would additionally herald the island’s suburban sprawl, making method for different like-minded concepts. By the late Sixties, Long Island appeared loads much less like farmland and much more like an extension of the metropolis. 

Long Island was changing into much less agrarian, and then-county government John Klein realized that this decimation of land was going to turn out to be an issue. In 1974, together with his assist, the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program was launched in an try and curb the sprawl. It was amongst the first applications of its form in the nation to guard working farms.

“The county would purchase the growth rights to farmland and go away the residual land itself nonetheless in personal possession from the farmers,” says Robert Carpenter, director at Long Island Farm Bureau

The program, Carpenter says, provided the farmers a monetary incentive whereas conserving the land of their arms. Meanwhile, farmers would proceed to pay taxes on the land and proceed to keep up it, which concurrently benefitted the authorities. “It was actually a win-win state of affairs at that time for each the authorities and the farm neighborhood,” says Carpenter. 

In 1977, George C. Reeve, seventh-generation farmer and proprietor of Reeve’s Farm, gave up growth rights to his 84-acre farm, which continues to be in operation at the moment.

The end result, in accordance with information stored by the Suffolk County Farmland Development Rights Program, has been a complete of 11,000 acres of protected farmland inside the county since the program’s inception and greater than 20,000 acres of protected farmland inside the county via the mixture of extra county, city and different preservation applications. 

“I believe that if there was no farmland preservation program, or no open house program, we might see, principally, you recognize, Babylon, Islip, Huntington, develop like that, all the method out to the East End, for sure,” Carpenter says, evaluating Long Island’s North and South Forks to the extremely developed areas of Nassau and western Suffolk counties. 

In this elementary method, he says, the program has been a hit, and, to some extent, a benchmark for different applications round the nation. Connecticut’s statewide and voluntary Farmland Preservation Program, as an illustration—developed 4 years after Suffolk County launched its program—has preserved 45,000 acres of land and seeks to protect 130,000 acres in the long run. New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program was additionally established in the early Eighties, serving to to avoid wasting 69,500 acres of farmland by 2000.

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The want for such applications continues to be felt at the moment. According to a 2020 report from American Farmland Trust, 11 million acres of American agricultural land was misplaced to growth between 2001 and 2016.

Perhaps the purpose for the Suffolk program’s success, Carpenter and others say, is that it has focused a gaggle of landowners who’ve been the almost definitely to take benefit of it. “Most farmers, their largest asset by far is the farm itself,” says Kareem Massoud, winemaker at Palmer Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island and president of Long Island Wine Country. “And most farmers are caught with a state of affairs the place the crops that they develop should not that worthwhile and Mother Nature is your companion.” That twinned relationship makes farmers weak, says Massoud, and it additionally makes them vulnerable to appeals from builders, as a result of the work is tough and the reward is usually small. 

Another purpose the program labored—and has continued to work—says Massoud, is that the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program has relied on the market to dictate land worth. “Farmers aren’t silly. They’re enterprise individuals, too,” he says. “And, in any case, for many farmers, that is their life financial savings, primarily, tied up in the land, and, so, in an effort to make it work, you must pay truthful market worth.” When farmers cede growth rights to the county, they accomplish that at a price that competes with an actual price that they may get from an precise developer and that, says Massoud, does make an considerable distinction with regards to incentivizing preservation. 

For farmers coming into the enterprise, properties which have already bought off growth rights may show extra engaging. “If your true goal is to farm, without any consideration to future generations and what their needs could be, buying property and even leasing property to develop that has no growth rights intact may be very inexpensive,” says Christine Tobin, proprietor of Mattebella Vineyards in Southold, New York. 

Tobin, who owns 21½ acres along with her husband Mark, says that the majority of their property—all however three acres—lacks growth rights and, in consequence, has decreased property taxes. “The actual property tax on that element of such a big piece of property is underneath $1,000 a yr,” she says.

But the true legacy of the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program has been much less—much less sprawl and fewer homes on jap Long Island, the place wineries and farmland proceed to populate the panorama. If the customary dwelling on the East End is constructed on an acre of land and the Preservation Program lays declare to 11,000 acres of protected land, one can think about 11,000 properties as a replacement, the place vineyards, cornfields and apple orchards nonetheless have room to develop. 

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