Saving Farmland is Only the First Step

Rick Monk

In a victory for farmers, local food, and farmland preservation, a New York appeals court recently validated amendments to the Suffolk County’s Farmland Preservation Program. The March 2018 ruling overturned a lower court decision that would have prevented farmers from building farm stands, greenhouses, fences, and other structures that allow farmers to make productive agricultural use of their lands–lands which support, feed, and enrich their communities.

After the lower court decision, American Farmland Trust began working with our partners in Suffolk County and across New York to right this potentially-disastrous decision. Last September, we joined a group of environmental, agricultural, and community preservation organizations led by Peconic Land Trust, Long Island Farm Bureau, and Farm Credit East to submit an amici curiae brief to the appeals court to support Suffolk County in its fight to preserve its Farmland Preservation Program.

The Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program, established in 1974, was the nation’s first “purchase of development rights” program, a program in which public money is used to purchase residential and commercial development rights from farmers. The program goals are to conserve and protect viable farmlands and to encourage the improvement of farmland both for the production of food and for the preservation of farmland as valued natural and ecological resources, essential for the vitality of the community.

Under the program, farmers enter into a voluntary agreement restricting the uses and development of the property for agricultural purposes. The farmers are paid for the development value of their land without having to sell their farms and quit farming. The agricultural, environmental and other community benefits provided by farmland are preserved for the greater public good. AFT has helped build similar programs across the country leading to the permanent protection of more than 6.7 million acres.

Despite this positive judicial decision, the work to keep farmers on protected farmland is ongoing and more critical than ever. Farmers need to have the ability to adapt and change farming practices as markets, climate and other conditions change. It simply is not enough to assume that our work is done, just because a farm is protected. 

Please join us as we continue our work with farmers, communities, and elected representatives in New York and across the country to protect farmland – and keep farmers on this land for generations to come.  

Photo by Lindsay Morris Photography