It all started back in 2009 with a meeting held at the Elmendorph Inn, hosted by the Town of Red Hook, attended by several local farm families, community members, and staff from Scenic Hudson and the DLC. The discussion was about the Town’s new Purchase of Development Rights matching program. Just prior to this, a petition had been submitted to the Town on behalf of 14 area farmers about protecting farms along West Kerley Corners Road, an area that is part of what is locally known as the “Red Hook Breadbasket,” an important agricultural region dedicated to farming that contains one of the largest concentrations of prime farmland soils in the Hudson Valley.
The question – how do we accomplish this large landscape scale project, and ensure the successful protection of these family farms in a way that both meets the individual goals of the families and the conservation goals of the Town and organizations involved?
At that time, both the DLC and Scenic Hudson knew that this initiative would catalyze a collaboration at a scale never before achieved in the region. This project would include coordinated efforts focusing on multiple transactions within one particular assemblage, amplifying the efforts of both Scenic Hudson and the DLC, while engaging new partners and vaulting our collective land protection efforts to a whole new level. So, what better way to approach a large project like this than to work together?
The Kerley Corners project resulted in a unique method of focusing on community-based land protection. The landowners themselves provided the impetus for this project and demonstrated strong grassroots interest in its success. The Town of Red Hook with its strong history of local support of farmland protection and the Kerley Corners corridor captivated broad community interest because it is a well-traveled, highly scenic country road.
And so, working closely together on all aspects of the project, Scenic Hudson, the DLC and the Town of Red Hook jointly protected eight farms, closing in 2012, including Northwind, Migliorelli, Three Pond, Missing D, Trezza, Panorama, Sturges and Karpinski Farms. Together, this represented 12% of the active farmland in the town. Our effort was assisted by a generous award of $1.3 million in funding from the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All of the farms are family-owned, most operated for multiple generations. Two of the larger food-producing farms had previously protected much of their land. Two are livestock farms that provide pasture-raised, natural meats to the local community, while two others are part of larger fruit and vegetable farms that sell produce throughout the Hudson Valley.
Several produce hay and hay products and some supply support lands for other local farmers. One of the properties is an equine boarding and training facility that offers recreation opportunities to the growing equine industry in the region. With a rolling topography and two of the highest points in the town, the protected land also contains some of the most productive local orchards.
This multi-faceted collaboration was the start of a successful partnership between the DLC and Scenic Hudson that helped galvanize a productive and ongoing relationship to this day.
Since that time, our partnership has grown as we continue to work collectively to protect more farms that meet our overlapping priorities. “Partnering with Scenic Hudson gives us the ability to jointly advance our mutual interests, helps us bring together our shared values, priorities, resources, and competencies, and because of this, increases the likelihood of success. We are linked by a common vision when it comes to the importance of our farms to our local communities,” notes Becky Thornton, DLC’s President.
“It is with a real sense of appreciation and excitement that we look at everything we have accomplished in partnership with the DLC and Dutchess County’s farm families,” said Steve Rosenberg, Scenic Hudson’s Senior Vice-President and Executive Director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. “With the DLC and the Hudson Valley’s many other capable land trusts working together to conserve the region’s most productive farms, we achieve far more than we might have working alone.”
Later that same year, we again partnered to conserve Jim Greig’s 160-acre farm in Red Hook, started by Jim’s grandparents, Robert and Marion Greig in 1942. The farm maintains a large-scale pick-your-own fruit and vegetable operation and includes a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
The following year, sisters Abbey Kalina Straus and Lydia Kalina Nadel, who grew up on the 150-acre working Kalina Farm their father Nathan purchased in the 1950’s, agreed that keeping the farm in the family and protecting it through our joint PDR (purchase of development rights) program was important to them and together we closed on this farm in 2013.
In 2014, Frank Vosburgh, who leases the Kalina Farm and owns the adjacent 72-acre Kesicke Farm, agreed to protect his family’s Kesicke Farm. Originally purchased in 1944 by Frank’s maternal grandfather, Frank Kesicke passed it down through the generations to Frank, who has been farming since he was 18 years old. The farm has grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, and chickens as well as eggs and produce, all of which is sold at their farm stand on Middle Road.
In 2014, we also closed on the 106-acre Echo Valley Farm, owned by the Klose family, which was historically a dairy operation, but is now operated as a sheep and hay farm. Chris Klose said, “Thanks to this marvelous public-private partnership, Echo Valley Farm will remain a farm. It’s a dream come true!”
In 2013 Scenic Hudson published its Foodshed Conservation Plan, which outlines a strategic approach to conserving the agricultural land that supplies fresh, local food to the people of the Hudson Valley and New York City and further identifies areas that are considered as “highest” priorities for farmland protection. This Plan was incorporated into the County’s new Farmland Protection Plan and created opportunities for expanded partnerships in new areas of Dutchess County. And the most important outcome was that Governor Cuomo put $20 million in the 2015 budget directed solely to conserve Hudson Valley foodshed farms.
Following the release of the Foodshed Conservation Plan, the partnership between the DLC and Scenic Hudson expanded beyond the borders of Red Hook, into other areas of the county. Our next project involved working very closely with the Osofsky family, owners of Ronnybrook Dairy.
Ronnybrook Dairy is anchored in Ancram, Columbia County, but the family owns and works its other family owned farms in Pine Plains. Ronny, Sid, Rick and Freda (Freddi) Osofsky all grew up on the family farm, known as the “Home Farm,” and loved the farm life. The siblings eventually took over their parents’ business and now Ronnybrook Dairy is one of the premiere dairy farm operations in the state, with an established brand of milk products that are sold in retail outlets throughout the tri-state NY/NJ/CT region.
The dairy has become a multi-generational family business and the siblings are in the process of transitioning the farm to younger family members. Working with the DLC and Scenic Hudson, the Osofsky family sold their development rights on the Home Farm in 2016, thanks in part to a grant this time from the New York State Farmland Protection Program.
We have repeated this model of partnership and secured funding to protect four additional farms, all of which are anticipated to close in 2017.
It all started with a meeting. In total, the DLC and Scenic Hudson working together have protected 13 key farms and 1,100 acres, raising over $7 million through federal, state, county, town and local funding. Scenic Hudson itself has provided a total of $1.6 million to close the funding gap on these transactions. Together we’ve promoted the importance of agriculture as a business, as a way of life, and as part of our rural agricultural heritage to our federal, state and local representatives, helping to spread the word about the critical role farming plays in our communities.
The DLC is also extremely proud to successfully collaborate with Dutchess County, Columbia Land Conservancy, and the Towns of Beekman, Dover, North East, LaGrange, Red Hook, and Union Vale, to help ensure that what is most important to our local communities remains intact.