OSI Loan Helps Protect Historic Farmland in Western Massachusetts

Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman
OSI Loan Helps Protect Historic Farmland in Western Massachusetts

NEW YORK, NY - January 1, 2006 - Today the Open Space Institute and its newest partner in land conservation, The Kestrel Trust, announced the protection of prime farmland in the historic Great Meadow of Hadley, Massachusetts. The Great Meadow is part of the Connecticut River Valley, identified one of the nation's top 20 agricultural areas most threatened by development, according to American Farmland Trust.

OSI's $100,000 loan to The Kestrel Trust for a 3.2-acre parcel marks the beginning of a new effort on OSI's part to facilitate land conservation in western Massachusetts.

Located on a historic flood plain peninsula formed by a bend in the Connecticut River, the Great Meadow is a unique area coveted both by farmers and developers. The 350-acre field was laid out in 1661, when the town was founded, and allotted to the town's first colonial settlers. Today, these historic fields are still owned separately by dozens of landowners, making large-scale conservation a challenge for the Trust.

Considered some of the richest soils in the state, if not the nation, The Great Meadow has been farmed continuously for the 350 years since settlement but recent housing development proposals have served as a wake up call to farmland and historic conservation groups. Among the groups concerned about this parcel is Preservation Mass, a statewide historic preservation group, which recently named the Great Meadow one of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Resources in Massachusetts.

Including this project, Kestrel has secured easements restricting development on 10 parcels totaling 20 acres of land that continue to be farmed in the Great Meadow, while identifying another 10 parcels for protection. Purchased in late December, the farmland is located on Cemetery Road, and had been advertised on the real estate market as an upscale housing lot since May. “Although this area has been in the good hands of farmers for centuries, needs are changing and for some owners, and the land is starting to be valued more for houses than for corn and squash and historic character,” said Judith Eiseman, Chair of The Kestrel Trust. Had this parcel been developed, an important and productive piece of farmland would have been lost and the character of the entire area would have been altered.

Primary funding for the project has come from an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) earmarked by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources but that will not be available immediately. In the interim, OSI has provided a low-interest bridge loan to the Kestrel Trust. Funding raised from citizens and private foundations will also supplement state funding to cover the acquisition.

The project is the second loan made by the Open Space Institute's new revolving loan fund for western Massachusetts (see press release dated 6/28/05 for announcement). According to Peter Howell, Director of Conservation Finance at OSI, the loan fund was established soon after OSI completed its study of conservation opportunities in the region (click here to download the study) and is funded through a $2 million contribution from the Kohlberg Foundation. The purpose of the fund is to provide short-term, low-interest loans to land trusts and other conservation organizations working to permanently protect working farms and forests, as well as other ecologically sensitive landscapes, in the region west of Worcester. OSI's first loan was made to the Mount Grace Land Trust in November, 2005 for the acquisition of a 123-acre parcel of forested land near Brush Mountain in Northfield, Massachusetts (see press release dated 11/10/05).

Connecticut River flood plain farm land is some of the most fertile land in northeastern United States. Often on flat ground and nearby other services, this land is under great development pressure. “We are pleased to be able to assist The Kestrel Trust in their work to protect this unique agricultural resource,” said Howell.

Additionally, OSI provided a $1,500 grant to Kestrel for a third party Environmental Site Assessment. These funds were provided through OSIšs new Kohlberg Capacity Grant Fund which provides funding to loan applicants for transactional costs and baseline monitoring.

“Efforts by the town, state, and conservation groups to conserve the Great Meadow are just beginning, but we are encouraged by the response from many landowners in the area,” said Kristin DeBoer, Development Director at The Kestrel Trust. “As more landowners choose to join in the effort to permanently protect their land, the momentum for conservation will grow.”

To promote conservation in the Great Meadow, The Kestrel Trust is continuing a private fundraising drive to raise $100,000 in seed funding. So far, the Trust has raised more than $75,000 from citizens and foundations. Tax-deductible contributions will be used to help supplement APR acquisition costs by the state, cover real estate transaction costs, and pay for appraisals.

If you would like to donate funds to protect the Great Meadow, please contact Kristin DeBoer via email at kristin@kestreltrust.org.

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The mission of the Open Space Institute (http://www.osiny.org/) is to protect scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character. OSI achieves its goals through land acquisition, conservation easements, special loan programs, and creative partnerships. Through its Conservation Loan Program, OSI has assisted in the protection of 1.4 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina.

Founded in 1970, The Kestrel Trust is a regional land trust in western Massachusetts dedicated to the protection of forests, fields, farms, and wetlands from the Mount Holyoke Range to Mount Toby and the Pelham Hills, and from the Connecticut River to the Quabbin Reservoir. By working with landowners, town conservation commissions, state agencies, and other land trusts Kestrel has helped to protect several thousand acres in the nine-town region we serve. (http://www.kestreltrust.org/)








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The Great Meadow in Hadley, MA

Views of Connecticut River From Great Meadow

Massachusetts farmland is still disappearing at an alarming rate. Between 1982 and 1997, Massachusetts lost 18% of its agricultural land--in all, 89,000 acres, according to the American Farmland Trust (AFT). In fact, in 1997, AFT identified the Connecticut River Valley as one of the nation's top 20 agricultural areas most threatened by development.


Visit American Farmland Trust at www.farmland.org.

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