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New England Farm.  Photo by DL Volz

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UPDATE: On 02/28/07, Woodstock residents voted unanimously to purchase the development rights for the Kowal Farm. It will be farmland forever.

Farms provide locally grown crops and products, habitat for wildlife, and add greatly to the aesthetic beauty and rural character of the Quiet Corner. They also offer significant economic and tax advantages.  Farms supply profitable secondary markets like food processing, and generate spin-off industries that fuel our local economy. To top it off, on average, farmland only costs a community $0.31 in services for every $1.00 it generates in revenue. This helps balance municipal budgets strained by residential growth. (Source: 1998 American Farmland Trust study.)

Farmland in Woodstock, CT.  Photo by L. Sweetnam of Neighborhood Views
Woodstock hopes to protect the 109 acre Kowal Farm, shown in this photo (above the lake towards the center) by L. Sweetnam of Neighborhood Views.

Since 1984, Connecticut has lost more than 21% of its farmland to development. (Source: USDA 2001). Each year an average of 8,000 acres of CT farmland are lost forever to non-agricultural uses. (Source: Trust for Public Lands)  That equates to 22 acres a day.

Agricultural lands are especially vulnerable to development for a couple of reasons.  Farmland is generally flat, cleared and scenic. It has soils suitable for septic systems. Unfortunately those same prime agricultural soils (i.e., soils that are most productive for crops) are a non-renewable natural resource. Most farms here are family businesses, and the land may represent their greatest asset.  Owners have been caught in an economic squeeze between the rising cost of doing business, and markets for farm products that are holding steady or declining.  

The Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program is one tool that enables farmers to continue to farm their land, by tapping some of the equity without having to sell the land outright.  Under this program, the “right” to develop the land in the future is purchased by the State, and a conservation easement is placed on the agricultural land.  An easement is a legal agreement that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property. Each easement's restrictions are tailored to the particular property and the interests of the individual owner. An easement "runs with the land," which means that the original owner and all subsequent owners are bound by its restrictions.  Because the land remains private property, it continues to generate tax revenue.

The PDR program may not right for every farmer.  Some are reluctant to participate because of its potential impact on obtaining financing.  It also limits their ability to subdivide land in the future for residential development, which can provide income for illness, retirement, or heirs.  But other farmers see it as a way to keep their precious land in continued agricultural use, while leaving a permanent legacy for current and future generations of both their family and the community.

In Woodstock CT, about 992 acres of nine different farms are in the PDR program.  The owners of the 117 acre Kowal Farm on East Quasset Road want to participate in the PDR program.  This farm, which grows hay and corn, has been in the Kowal family since the 1940’s.  About 85% of the open land is prime agricultural soil. It abuts active agricultural land.

The State Department of Agriculture is very interested in preserving the agricultural potential of this part of the State, and gives preference to towns that partner in purchases. They State is willing to purchase the development rights for the Kowal farm. The Town of Woodstock Agricultural Land Preservation and Land Acquisition Fund currently contains approximately $220,000, of which about $160,000 would be needed to supplement the Dept. of Agriculture investment.  This fund was created for the sole purpose of conserving open space and suitable lands for a continued agricultural base – it can not be used for anything else. CME Associates, Inc. has already surveyed and mapped the property (a service valued at $14,000) at no cost to the Town. 

In February 2007, Woodstock voters will get a chance to vote for or against allowing use of the special fund to contribute towards the purchase of development rights for Kowal Farm.  An informational meeting is scheduled for January 31, 7:30 p.m. at the Woodstock Town Hall, so people can make an informed decision about this part of Woodstock’s future. 

For more information, contact any Open Space Land Acquisition and Farmland Preservation Committee member, or the Woodstock Town Hall.



Originally published in The Woodstock Villager on 01/12/2007. Barn photo by DL Volz.

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