A RIDGE AND TWO VALLEYS

Protecting Farms in the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys

Shawangunk Valley Farm by Steve Jordan

Farmland in the Shawangunks photo Steve Jordan   

New York, NY - June 2009 - The vista of endless rolling farmland seen while standing atop the distinct ridgeline of the Shawangunks is easy to take for granted. The land seems, in some way, eternal. In reality, while much of the Shawangunk Ridge is now protected, the farmland of the Hudson River Valley remains, according to a study by the American Farmland Trust, one of the top 10 most-threatened agricultural areas in the country. Yet, local food depends on local farms.

In 2007, after two decades of extensive Shawangunk Ridge protection efforts, the Open Space Institute (OSI) launched the Two Valleys Campaign to expand OSI’s conservation focus to the farming communities that flank the mountain range: the Wallkill Valley to the southeast and the Rondout Valley to the northwest. Both valleys are named after the Hudson River tributaries that wind through them and make their soils some of the richest in the region. In the words of one New Paltz farmer whose land is now protected through the work of OSI and the community.

“I can only speak for this land and this land should be growing food.”

OSI is helping farmers permanently protect their land, ensuring that their properties will be cultivated for generations into the future. These farmers and their neighbors are unwilling to lose their land and their legacy to development, instead opting for open spaces that stimulate the local economy with a source of farm-fresh food. The Two Valleys Campaign, with your help, is turning farmers’ hopes into reality.

The Importance of Farmland in the Two Valleys

More than half a million visitors come to Ulster County annually to hike the hundreds of miles of trails and carriage roads in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the Mohonk Preserve, and Sam’s Point Preserve. They rock climb on the sheer Shawangunk cliffs or watch birds migrate. They stroll and shop their way through small towns and stop at roadside farm stands. 

For years, the conservation attention was on the Shawangunk Ridge itself, but what will visitors see from the ridge top 50 years from now? OSI recognizes that in order to preserve the view from on high, the conservation focus must be redirected to the communities below while supporting sustainable livelihoods for the region’s citizens. The Two Valleys Campaign concentrates on farmland protection in the towns of Gardiner, New Paltz, Marbletown, Rosendale, Rochester, Wawarsing, Crawford, Montgomery and Shawangunk. 

Osterhoudt Farm, Rondout Campaign, Brett Cole

Osterhoudt Farm

The goal of OSI’s Two Valleys Campaign is to raise more than $7 million through a combination of public and private funding. OSI has demonstrated its commitment by pledging $3 million over the next three years, but we must raise $2.8 million from a combination of bond act monies and state Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) grants as well as an additional $1.5 million from private sources. We are counting on your support to help us leverage our commitment in your community.

Supporting farmland conservation in the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys is an investment in the future and a testimony to the impact you can have in shaping your community. OSI Leads Conservation Efforts in the Two Valleys.

OSI recognizes that protecting farmland is an essential means of maintaining an historical and cultural legacy while stimulating the local economy.

Studley-Mills Property Shawangunks, photo by Behan

Enhancing regional economies

Agriculture in the Hudson River Valley is vital to the region’s economy. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, $3.6 billion of farm products, from apples to cheese to wine, were sold in the region, where farmlands compose almost 30 percent of the privately owned land base. OSI is supporting well-managed small farms that utilize innovative marketing practices, fostering economic structures that benefit consumers and producers alike. 

Davenport Farm Vegetables

Providing safe local food sources

More frequently, we are seeing the pitfalls of factory farming, from food contamination to the rising costs of transporting your dinner’s ingredients from farm to plate. What better way to safeguard the means of your sustenance than by knowing your local farmer and the place where your food is grown? Having local farms fosters food security for rural and nearby urban markets, fills farmer’s market stands and enhances restaurant menus. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) takes local food a step further by connecting consumers directly to the land and farmers who grow food. 

Khosla Farm

Sustaining community character

Farms inspire a sense of place, and the very nature of the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys is defined by the presence of extensive farmland. Many of these farms have been under agricultural production since colonial times, meaning their protection preserves an historical and agrarian legacy as well as open space. Yet, across New York State, a staggering 26,000 acres of farmland are lost each year to development. OSI is at the forefront of the effort to stem this loss. 

Preserving the landscape

Protecting farmland as working landscapes complements and expands OSI’s fundamental mission to preserve open spaces. Maintaining land as working farms preserves vistas otherwise marred by development. It secures the conservation investment made on adjacent lands that we consider priority landscapes, including the Shawangunk Ridge, where OSI and our conservation partners have protected thousands of acres for public recreation.

OSI's Conservation Tools for Protecting Farms

OSI utilizes a variety of means to protect agricultural open spaces, recognizing that each farm protection project is unique. OSI is working closely with local leaders to create a conservation agenda that serves these communities, the economy and the environment. In November 2006, voters in Marbletown, Gardiner and New Paltz passed bond acts allocating $5.5 million for open space conservation. OSI is working with the bond act committees in all three towns to further farmland protection in the two valleys through education, strategic assessments and partnerships. 

Our diverse approach testifies to our flexibility, creativity, and commitment to keeping the rural and bucolic character of the two valleys intact. In addition to working with municipalities and New York State, we protect land with these tools at our disposal:

• Conservation easements and agricultural easements that allow owners to place permanent restrictions on how their land is used while retaining ownership and continuing to farm

• Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) that allow farmers to sell the potential for building on their land in return for much-needed capital

• Direct acquisition fee purchase

• Low-interest loans though OSI’s Conservation Finance Program

As of July 2010, OSI has invested over $6 million to protect over 3,200 acres on 20 farms. Your Help Will Keep Local Farmers in the Two Valleys.

Since OSI’s first agricultural easement in the region in 2002, we have protected over 3,200 acres as part of OSI’s Two Valleys Campaign.

We have identified an additional 5,000 acres that are a high priority for protection. We aim to raise $1.5 million from private sources and $2.5 million from bond act monies and state grants to make this campaign a success. 

When combined with leveraged funds and resources from local, state, federal and private sources, this funding will make significant strides in ensuring that this landscape is protected. We are counting on your support to help us leverage our commitment into conservation that matters in your community. 

Your significant support today will ensure that the resources we need are available to benefit the Rondout and Wallkill valleys in these challenging times. Your immediate financial assistance shows your support for strong communities, local food, and an economic stimulus package that benefits your backyard.

Help us spread the word to save farmlands for the lasting benefit of your community. Together, we can protect Rondout and Wallkill Valley heritage and preserve the landscapes you love, now and for future generations. 

To make a tax-deductible contribution or multi-year pledge, please contact Tally Blumberg at the Open Space Institute: 212.290.8200 ext. 228. You may also make your donation online at www.osiny.org.

Sam's Point

OSI’s Needs
OSI has resources to further our farmland protection goals, however they fall far short of the funds that are necessary to make a significant impact on threatened farms in the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys. We estimate that at least $7.3 million will be necessary to accomplish our goals in the two valleys. OSI is actively seeking funds from public and private sources. Our goal is to raise $4.3 million from bond act monies, State PDR grants, and private sources, which OSI will match with $3 million over the next three years. We are seeking commitments totaling $1.5 million from private sources toward the total goal of $4.3 million.

Our Commitment to Two Valleys
OSI has made a strong commitment to this region and has set ambitious goals going forward—ambitious, but clearly attainable with strong public and private support. Saving farmland in the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys is of paramount importance. The very nature of the region depends on it.

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