Food Security Through Farmland Conservation
A nonprofit land trust, the Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA) helps landowners conserve and protect the working landscape of farms and forests in Washington and Rensselaer counties. In the mid-1990s ASA developed an agricultural and farm-land protection plan, whereby a “Purchase of Development Rights Program” was established to ensure this valuable farmland remains in farming.
In 2003 Teri Ptacek joined ASA as its first paid staffer and execu- tive director. Since its 1990 inception, ASA has assisted landowners in Washington and Rensselaer counties with the conservation of nearly 17,000 acres on over 100 properties.
Ptacek notes, “In order to ensure a vibrant farming economy in our region for the future, we need to protect about 50,000 acres more.”
That is said with the reality that New York State loses one farm to development every three and a half days; the Capital District has lost 60% of its farmland in the past five decades. Bordering ASA’s service area, Saratoga County is the fastest-growing county in New York State. While it costs about $1,500 to conserve an acre of land in Washington and Rensselaer counties, and three times that to do the same in the Lower Hudson Valley, the price tag in the Hamptons can reach about $375,000 an acre. The truth is, we know we can’t manufacture more farmland.
Ptacek continues, “The board adopted a Farmland Conservation Plan last year, and we’ve set a goal to raise $1.9 million for the Forever Farmland Fund,” which ensures close to $10 million in local forest and farmland conservation work. Much of that money is raised in the form of individual donations and enhanced by substantial institutional support and funding from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program.
Ptacek and her team have come up with creative ways to raise funds and awareness for their mission. From their Tour de Farm bike tour to nature photography classes for youth, they work collaboratively with other individuals and organizations in the region. Over Columbus Day weekend they partner with noted artists for a fundraiser at a beautiful historic barn-turned-gallery in Coila. The popular “Landscapes for Landsakes” raises money for ASA, and ASA splits proceeds with the contributing artists. Says Ptacek, “There is such a connection between the land and our thriving art community.”
The organization’s mission resonates with those in the culinary arts, too. People realize that locally grown food is more healthful and better for our environment, however, we can’t eat locally if the farmers and farms don’t exist.
Noah Sheetz was the executive chef at the New York Governor’s Mansion from 2005 to 2013 and is also acting director of the Chef’s Consortium, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the joys of local foods. Sheetz was one of the first chefs of the time to champion New York State farmers, sourcing as many ingredients as possible from state-based farmers and producers for meals and events at the executive mansion. The Chef’s Consortium partnered with ASA last summer to prepare their Forever Farmland Supper at an ASA-protected farm, Hand Melon Farm, and they’ll be preparing the dinner again this year on August 4.
Says Sheetz, “ASA gives chefs access to a reliable network of farmers and ingredients and, through their support, provides a very tangible way to directly contribute to save and protect farms, and a local fresh food source.” Sheetz notes the Chef Consortium’s central mission is to support and promote local producers and that Consortium chef Ellie Markovitch has also worked with ASA providing photography and educational workshops. Sheetz states, “For me, working with ASA on these events has provided an opportunity to reconnect with farmers in the Washington County region, and it’s also a great way to highlight our Capital Region chefs who also source ingredients from the farms protected by ASA.”
This scenic region steeped in agricultural traditions and checker- board hillsides is not unlike what you would see in a 19th-century painting by Grandma Moses, who drew inspiration from these stunning vistas.
The Moses Farm in Eagle Bridge, run now by Rich and Kathy Moses, was started by Rich’s dad, uncle and grandfather in the 1930s—and Rich is the great-grandson of Grandma Moses.
Rich and Kathy had met at Union College, and after they both had jobs working for Travelers Insurance in Hartford, Connecticut, they decided to move to the family farm in 1979. “We both loved being outdoors and knew a desk job wasn’t the right fit. We were looking for the perfect environment to raise a family,” states Kathy.
Rich says, “We knew we wanted to ensure the land would remain farmland, so when Teri [Ptacek] came to talk to us, it all made a lot of sense—with fertile soil and access to great water, we don’t want to take the farmland for granted. It seems that this land was really made for the purpose of farming.”
Both Rich and Kathy feel conserving the land in this way protects the farms from being consumed by housing developments in the future—and for the present, helps to make sure vegetables continue to be grown there and sold at their roadside stand. While their three children are grown and have off-farm careers, their son, Seth, wants to come to work the farm in a couple of years. “We didn’t encourage Seth to return,” says Kathy, “but maybe he’ll enjoy an outdoor job, too.”