SARATOGA COUNTY -- A state land preservation grant program will invest $1.9 million in four farmland preservation projects in Saratoga County and one in Albany County, state officials announced Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program has awarded a record $35 million toward the conservation of 13,000 acres of agricultural land on 40 farms across the state.
In Saratoga County, the awards include three for Saratoga PLAN, a non-profit land conservation group, and one to the town of Clifton Park. The money will be used to buy permanent conservation easements on land to prevent it from ever being developed, though the owners can continue to use it for agricultural purposes.
Clifton Park will receive $408,750 to purchase the development rights to Maple Hill Farm. The 73-acre beef farm on Ashdown Road, which also has a large-scale maple syrup operation, is owned by Kurt and Julie Swartz.
Saratoga County will contribute $14,000, plus an estimated $6,250 of in-kind contributions, toward that easement. Clifton Park will allocate $77,100 in cash and $9,250 of in-kind contributions. Saratoga PLAN also helped develop the application for the award.
Julie Swartz said the farm has been in the Swartz family for generations, and she and her husband want to retire without worrying the farmland will be developed.
“It’s not just for us," she said. "It’s a gift on our part to the community to preserve this open space. It will never be anything other than open space."
The awards to Saratoga PLAN include:
$565,291 to permanently protect 127 acres in the town of Ballston, owned by the Pott and Van Vorst families. The property was earlier identified as a regional open space conservation plan priority.
$311,044 will permanently protect 74 acres owned by Michele Peters, who owns a boarding operation in Northumberland for retired show and race horses, for mares weaning from their foals, and for horses recovering from injuries or taking a break from training. It also was a regional open space conservation priority project.
$219,914 will protect 65 acres in Galway owned by the Lendl and Stina families. The property is leased to Eildon Tweed Farm in West Charlton, the largest dairy operation in Saratoga County. The farm is also on the regional open space conservation priority list, and with Saratoga County land preservation program is putting in $37,000.
"These are important properties for the future of our agricultural industry and the nourishment of future generations," said Saratoga PLAN Executive Director Maria Trabka.
With land throughout Saratoga County under development pressure, "all three of these properties would have uncertain futures without the grant program," she said.
All of these easement projects have been in the works for several years, and, given the surveys, appraisals and other reviews involved, it's likely to be another two years before the deals are wrapped up, Trabka said.
In Colonie, meanwhile, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy received a $389,710 grant to preserve a 20-acre farm on Lisha Kill Road that is used for community-supported agriculture. State officials said it will make it easier for owner Al Lansing to transfer the property to the next generation. The land conservancy and Equity Trust, another land preservation organization, will contribute $130,500.
The Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program provides local governments, soil and water conservation districts and land trusts with grants to offset the cost of conservation easements. The money comes from the state Environmental Protection Fund.
"The program is essential to keeping viable farmland in agricultural production and also encourages farm investment," New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a prepared statement.
Gazette reporter Kassie Parisi contributed to this story.