October 11th farmhour

This week on the FarmHour, Madalyn interviewed Amy Kenyon of Farm Catskills to discuss the current public comment period open on NYC DEP’s Land Acquisition Program. 

Farm Catskills::Action Alert

Where to submit comments:
All comments must be filed with the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,
Division of Environmental Permits, Region 4 Field Office,
65561 State Highway 10,
Stamford, NY 12167,
Attn: Martha A. Wood, Project Manager.
All written comments must be submitted (postmarked) by no later than October 22, 2010.
By e-mail: Comments may also be submitted to R4DEP@gw.dec.state.ny.us.
Farm Catskills’ Talking Points for Comments to the DEC
1. The NYC DEP is underestimating the importance of agriculture to communities in its watersheds, as well as the impact of its land acquisition program on future farm viability.
The Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the DEP suggests that:
1)    Agriculture is not a significant industry to the watershed communities, and
2)    The Land Acquisition program has a neutral or net positive impact on agriculture, and therefore no mitigation is required (i.e., there is nothing more that NYC’s Land Acquisition Program should need to do to protect agriculture besides the Agricultural Easement Program (p ES-33).
These assertions are not accurate, and New York City must do more to protect the viability of agriculture within its watersheds. The NYC DEP Land Acquisition Program has a real impact on the future shape of watershed communities because of the permanence of its acquisitions and its restrictions on the uses of land.
Clean water and good food are not separate issues. New York City and New York State should require its environmental and food policy programs to come out of their policy silos and work together. The Land Acquisition Program should support efforts of other city and state programs to protect the city’s food supply, and invest in the Catskill region to keep the farmland active, viable, and well-managed as part of the city’s water and food-shed. 

2. NYC DEP should be a partner not only in protecting the region’s clean water, but in ensuring that we are able to have a vibrant agricultural and food processing sector that can underpin the economy.
The NYC DEP is making unprecedented strides towards encouraging the principles of Smart Growth by more actively encouraging and allowing future development in hamlet areas and walkable Main Streets. But the Main Streets of our rural communities are interconnected with the health of our farm and forestry businesses that depend on natural resources. Our communities cannot expect to survive on tourism and recreation businesses alone.
3. Agriculture is in fact an extremely important part of the watershed economy and communities. Every community’s comprehensive plan in Delaware County states the overwhelming support that residents and property owners have for the farms here. Every dollar spent at a farm has a positive ripple effect, and turns over multiple times in the local economy. The fact that the agricultural sector has declined in the past decades is not a reason to suggest that it is relatively unimportant – rather a call to action for all interested parties, including New York City to counteract the globalization of our food supply and boldly work to protect the watersheds as a source of clean drinking water and of good foods for both New York City and the Catskill region. 

4. The EIS downplays the impact that the land acquisition program has on agricultural lands.
  • Other studies have shown that the LAP will likely continue to put upwards pressure on agricultural land prices and result in the loss of more than 400 jobs over the next ten years. This should be taken into consideration.
  • Conversations with numerous farmers tell the stories of prime farmland the DEP purchased that farmers would have bought if they had known it was for sale, of land they no longer have access to for historic agricultural uses after DEP purchase, and of farmland prices being driven higher. Farmers in Delaware County who participated in a survey conducted by the Economic Development Department identified the NYC DEP land acquisition program as one of the barriers to their future viability as land becomes less available and more expensive.
5. There is a design flaw in the NYC DEP current and proposed programs to protect farmland. Local community land trusts need to be involved in the solicitation process. At least 40% of active farmland in the watershed is owned by non-farmers who allow farms to use their land and receive the agricultural tax exemption. These property owners are being solicited directly by the NYC DEP and many will choose to sell their land, when it could instead both be protected and remain as a locally-owned asset, either by a farmer or a community owned land trust who keep the land in active agriculture while also protecting it from future development.
6. NYC DEP must improve and expand its programs to allow recreation, agriculture, and forestry on the lands that it already owns.
  • Farmers must be able to lease DEP owned lands for longer periods of time (minimum 10 years, with an option to renew) in order to make investments such as fencing, trees or soil amendments. Grazing animals must be a permitted land use.
  • NYC DEP should proactively seek out farmers to lease its agricultural lands and develop a program to let farmers know about every parcel of agricultural land it owns and the process for leasing.
7. The NYC DEP can and should do more to keep farmland affordable and available for farmers. The goals of watershed protection and local ownership of farmland are not incompatible.
THEREFORE, Farm Catskills proposes the following specific innovations to the land acquisition program:
a) The NYC DEP should immediately stop purchasing active agricultural land and invest in a pilot community land trust program. There are numerous cases where the owner wishes to sell rather than put an agricultural easement on the property. When solicitation brings to DEP’s attention a farmland parcel they might purchase, the DEP should partner with a local land trust to purchase the property in fee. At that point,
o   The land trust can make the land available for purchase by a farmer, subject to future development restrictions, for a period of six months. This would allow local farmers the opportunity to purchase the property at its agricultural value, and keep the land locally-owned and also achieve the goal of watershed protection.
o   If no farmers bid on the property, the land trust could then transfer title to the NYC DEP, or purchase the property at its agricultural value, retain local ownership, and lease it to a farmer for growing food. 

b) NYC DEP should mitigate the Land Acquisition Program’s impact on farmland affordability by developing and funding a program that would give farmers an additional option to protect farmland affordability, through the sale of an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value.
o   This is a program that has been successful in Vermont over ten years, and has resulted in farms remaining active and owned by farmers, rather than transferring to a second homeowner when the farmer who conserved the land stops farming.
o   This is a voluntary program which has been proven in other areas to achieve long-term affordability of agricultural land for farmers.
o   There are young people in the watershed communities with farming experience and a desire to own and operate a sustainable farm – they would invest in these farms if they were available at their agricultural value – something that the NYC programs do not currently protect.
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