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Conservation deal closes on Charlton farm

Conservation deal closes on Charlton farm

Arrangement called "model" for getting new farmers started

CHARLTON -- A deal to permanently protect a 60-acre farm in Charlton from development, preserving it for agriculture, closed this week, officials with Saratoga PLAN announced.

Featherbed Lane Farm, on Featherbed Lane, which provides eggs and fresh produce, had its development rights purchased and extinguished by PLAN, a land trust based in Saratoga Springs. The move means the land won't be developed, and provisions will keep the property affordable for farmers in the future.

Located on fields and woodlands, Featherbed Lane Farm was established in 2015. Farmer Tim Biello sells his fresh produce and eggs through community-supported agriculture memberships, through an on-site farmstand, and through deliveries to area chefs. Biello relies on two draft horses, named Duke and Bear, for field power.

Biello launched the farm with help from the Local Farms Fund, a farmland investment fund based in Rhode Island, which purchased the farm in 2015 and agreed to a long-term lease with Biello that includes an option to purchase the farm. The fund and Biello approached PLAN for help to sell the development rights.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Farmland Protection Program awarded the project nearly $173,929 in 2015, and the Saratoga County Open Space and Farmland Protection Program also provided $35,900 in funding through the town of Charlton. The Charlton Town Board, which is interested in preserving the community's rural character, supported the plans.

It is common for such grant-funded projects to take several years to close because of the amount of legal and technical work and reviews involved, officials said.

“Tim Biello came to PLAN in 2011 for help when he started looking for land to farm," said PLAN Executive Director Maria Trabka. "Although it has been a long process to accomplish this milestone, today is really just the first day of forever. With this agreement, Featherbed Lane Farm will always be available to feed future generations, purify water and air, and harbor wildlife.”

Equity Trust, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization committed to keeping land affordable for farmers, contributed $48,000 for additional protection, called a preemptive purchase right, that is intended to keep the land in agriculture when it is sold in the future. Equity Trust Executive Director Jim Oldham said: “Keeping farmland affordable for farmers is critical to having a successful agricultural community, and we’re delighted to have achieved just that for this wonderful piece of farmland.”

Trabka said a private foundation provided $15,000 for PLAN's future management of the easement, and PLAN put in more than $5,000 in staff time.

“It has been great to work with the wide variety of entities supporting this effort," Biello said in a prepared statement provided by PLAN. "This will be a tremendous boost to my farm business and will help us stay on the farm.”

American Farmland Trust State Director David Haight called the arrangement a model for how to help new farmers get into business.

"Featherbed Lane Farm is a textbook example of an innovative partnership coming together to help a young farmer gain access to land," he said. "We need more pioneering projects like this.”

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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