Bud Wright wanted to preserve his 34-acre farm in Bridgewater in honor of his late wife, Maureen.
“We wanted to lead by example,” Wright says. “We believed in farming and passing down the farm to the next generation.”
Wright partnered with the Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust and applied for permanent protection of his farmland through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s (DoAg) Farmland Preservation Program.
The partnership was a success, and DoAg purchased the development rights of Wright’s Comanche Hill Farm on July 20, 2018.
The purchase of development rights (PDR) places a permanent restriction on property that limits its use to agriculture only.
The Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust has accelerated farmland protection in Litchfield County by encouraging seven farmers, including Wright, to apply for DoAg’s Farmland Preservation Program over the past two years.
Several of these projects are expected to close in 2019, meaning that farmers will have funds to retire farm debt, invest in new equipment or put aside for retirement. Weantinoge is also meeting with about two new farmers per month to introduce them to the PDR program.
Preserving the Land for Agriculture
Since 1965, the Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust has helped permanently protect 29 farms and 3,000 acres of farmland soils in northwest Connecticut.
“Working with the Department of Agriculture to protect farms is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of our work,” says Paul Elconin, Weantinoge’s Director of Land Conservation. “It can be a win-win-win for the farmer, farming and communities. The farm is protected, the farmer is paid for valuable development rights, and communities reap continued economic, agricultural and aesthetic benefits.”
Comanche Hill Farm was one of 15 farms permanently preserved for agricultural use by DoAg in 2018, adding 1,378 acres to the 42,976 acres of farmland previously preserved.
Farms are not only being preserved through the state’s flagship Farmland Preservation Program, but also through the state’s Community Farms Preservation Program (CFPP) and the Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) Program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The CFPP was created through Public Act 08-174 as a pilot in 2011 designed to preserve smaller farms of local economic importance. To participate, municipalities must meet eligibility requirements, including recognizing agriculture in the town’s plan of conservation and development, and establishing a source of funds for agricultural land preservation, among others.
DoAg works closely with the USDA’s NRCS to leverage federal ALE Program funds for farmland conservation. In 2018, eight out of 15 farms preserved used ALE Program funds for a total of more than $2.4 million in federal funds to match state dollars.
Connecticut municipalities contributed more than $1 million to purchase the development rights of farmland soils within their communities in 2018.
The diversity of federal, state and municipal funding sources helps increase the amount of farmland that can be permanently protected.
In July 2018, DoAg preserved 101 acres of the Shepard Farm’s prime and important Connecticut River Valley soils in South Windsor.
“The Connecticut River Valley contains some of the best agricultural soils in the country,” DoAg Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Conservation director Linda Piotrowicz says. “Preserving the best of the best soils for future generations to farm is critical to maintaining a high quality of life for the community and entire state of Connecticut.”
DoAg contributed $462,254 and the town $245,500 for the purchase of development rights (PDR) from the Shepard family.
“I think PDR is a great way to go,” landowner Tim Shepard says. “I think we accomplished a lot for a good dollar value.”
The farm remains in private ownership and continues to pay local property taxes, but the sale of development rights puts a permanent restriction on nonagricultural uses of the property.
“This is important farmland that will be preserved forever in South Windsor,” South Windsor Mayor Andrew Paterna says. “We anticipate this as our first step in the farmland preservation program that has been supported by the South Windsor Town Council, the Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Commission, the Open Space Task Force and embraced by the town residents.”
DoAg’s farmland preservation programs are voluntary and give farmers a realistic alternative to selling their land for nonagricultural development.
Since 2007, the town of Lebanon has preserved more than 50 farms and 2,500 acres of farmland soils through DoAg’s farmland preservation programs. Lebanon has preserved more farms than any other Connecticut municipality, which town planner Philip Chester attributes to the town’s commitment to its vibrant agricultural community.
“The town of Lebanon supports agriculture in a variety of ways, from running a farmers’ market to adopting policies and regulations that are supportive of farming,” Chester says. “In addition, the town has set aside funds annually since 2007 to preserve farmland and open space.”
The state’s long-term goal is to preserve 130,000 acres. DoAg Farmland Preservation Program Supervisor Cameron Weimar says the agency is working to increase the number of farms protected per year, with the goal of preserving 400 farms and 48,000 acres by the end of 2020.
Partnerships for Farmland Preservation
Connecticut farmers interested in farmland preservation often work with municipal government, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect their farmland through the sale of development rights.
These partnerships can help gather resources for the purchase of development rights (PDR), which is important for a state with some of the highest farm real estate values in the nation.
Other partners include the Connecticut Farmland Trust or a local land trust that may provide funding for land surveys and other information needed as part of the application process. A land trust may also hold the conservation easement, which permanently restricts nonagricultural use of the property.
Working with partners has enabled DoAg to preserve 44,354 acres of Connecticut farmland and created a roadmap to achieve the state’s long-term farmland preservation goals.