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“People have to have food and the land to grow it. I feel like we accomplished a great thing.”

-George Houser
Farm and Food Voices
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New York Dairy Farmer is a Farmland Protection Trailblazer

Someone has to be first. In many communities struggling to protectGeorge Houser
farmland, skepticism gradually turned to enthusiasm as farmers saw their neighbors protect their land and benefit from it—whether from the satisfaction of being able to pass their land onto future generations or the increased ability to invest back in their operations.

Dairy farmer George Houser Jr., who farms a goodsized chunk of fertile Hudson River bottom land in bucolic Washington County, New York, was first before many others were first. He became concerned early on, in the 1950s, that local governments were ignoring their farmland loss.  “If you don’t set aside blocks of farms, conflicts can increase to the point where farmland always loses,” Houser says.  “But ultimately everybody loses.”

Armed with a degree in government from Harvard, Houser spent the decades that followed working with fellow farmers and citizens, American Farmland Trust and his local planning board to develop guidelines that would save farmland. In 1990, he co-founded the Agricultural Stewardship Association, which became the first local land trust in New York dedicated solely to protecting agricultural land.

Houser’s own personal farmland protection journey began when he and his wife Earline donated an easement to American Farmland Trust in 1988, and it was finally completed last year when the family worked with the Agricultural Stewardship Association to conserve the final 302-acre portion of their 1,030-acre Brotherhood Farms. His determination inspired many of his farm neighbors along Route 40 in the town of Easton to protect thousands of acres of their own land as well. 

“It’s beyond personal,” Houser says. “People have to have food and the land to grow it. I feel like we accomplished a great thing.”

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American Farmland Trust