Take a ride in the countryside near an urban area, look at some prime parcel containing a housing subdivision or strip mall, and you're likely to say, "that used to be a farm." What you want to be saying, should be saying for the general good, is, "that is a farm." Local land conservancies, like the one in Columbia County , make that prospect more likely.
New York state has lost almost half a million acres of farmland to development in the past 25 years. The reasons have to do not only with rising land prices, but rising ages on the part of farmers. Many are 55 or older and, especially if their children have no interest in farming (as more and more don't), it's quite tempting to carve up the farm or sell it outright to a developer offering wheelbarrows full of money, and retire.
At the same time, there's a new generation interested in growing locally grown organic vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese and milk. And there's a growing market for these items at urban green markets and restaurants. But these fledgling farmers generally can't afford the price of admission to the business -- i.e., the purchase of agricultural land at prices inflated by development pressures.
This is where non-profit land conservancies come in. Often they'll buy conservation easements in which a farmer gives up development rights in return for a lump sum or annual payment, and promises to keep the land available for farming.
The Columbia Land Conservancy has plenty of such easements, but also a program begun in 2009 that matches willing landowners and farmers. Some of the landowners are urbanites who have second homes and would like to lease some acreage to someone who will farm it. Others are farmers whose land has been in the family for generations and would like it to continue to be farmed rather than developed. In most cases, the land conservancy will help negotiate a lease between the farmer and landowner, with the terms varying depending on the needs of both.
The program is not only preserving farmland, but keeping a rural economy going while providing nutritious, local food grown in a sustainable way. The matching program already has about 85 landowners and 65 farmers. That bodes well for the lovely, rolling countryside of Columbia County , which is extremely vulnerable to development pressure.