May 23, 2017Rebecca
If the strawberry is the unofficial mascot of summer, then the organic berries grown at Thompson-Finch Farm are Columbia County summer at its finest. Unfortunately, in what has become a common story in the Hudson Valley, rising real estate prices could force this iconic farm to shutter its business unless immediate action is taken to protect the land and secure its future as a farm. Farmers Don and Marnie MacLean have joined forces with the Columbia Land Conservancy and Equity Trust to raise community support to save the farm for future generations.
Thompson-Finch Farm has been growing organic vegetables in Ancram for the past 35 years. It is one of the largest and oldest you-pick strawberry operations in the Northeast. It also grows blueberries, apples, and a variety of vegetables. Even some of their most loyal customers are surprised to learn that the MacLeans built this business while leasing the 200-acre property.
In 2016, as ownership was transferring from one generation to the next, the MacLeans understood that they would have to come up with a creative solution to protect the land they have farmed for decades or watch as it sold at a price out of reach for almost any farmer, and most likely out of agricultural use. Last fall they temporarily secured the property with a loan from Equity Trust, a non-profit organization that, “helps communities to gain ownership interests in land and other local resources, and helps people to make economic changes that balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the community, the earth, and future generations.” Now they, Equity Trust, and the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) have formed the Thompson-Finch Farm Collaborative to permanently protect the property’s ecologically important resources and offer public education opportunities while allowing future generations of farmers to continue to work the land.
The goal of the campaign is to enable CLC to own the farmland and lease it to current and future farmers in a long-term secure arrangement, while the farmers build equity through ownership of infrastructure. This will allow the MacLeans to plan for their retirement knowing that they have ensured that the farm will remain a treasured agricultural resource for the community. A small public trail leading to the banks of the Roeliff Jansen Kill is planned for the property, along with educational programming. Additional farmland protection partnering organizations include Scenic Hudson and the Dutchess Land Conservancy.
The collaborative effort has already secured nearly $500,000 of the estimated $1.5M needed to purchase and protect the farm. CLC, Equity Trust, and the MacLeans are now launching a fund-raising campaign to turn the vision into reality.
Don and Marnie are excited about working with partners to protect the farm: “It is a rare moment when what you absolutely must do out of necessity turns out to also be the best thing and the thing you truly want to do. Faced with the certainty that the land we had been farming for over three decades would be sold, we turned to the Columbia Land Conservancy and Equity Trust in search of a way of saving the farm from sale and development. We have worked together to create a dynamic plan that does much more than save the farm for us. We can keep the farm affordable for generations of future farmers and preserve that which so many have come to love. A place of food, beauty, friendship, and sanctuary.”
“Thompson-Finch Farm has been a highly regarded and beloved farm of our community for many, many years. Don & Marnie have successfully balanced productive agriculture with the protection of important and fragile natural ecosystems. If we are successful with our campaign, members of the community will be able to continue to enjoy the farm and all that it has to offer for many generations to come,” says Peter Paden, Executive Director of CLC.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the community to come together to protect a treasured farm: a source of delicious food, a beautiful place to visit, and a home where farmers make their living. Equity Trust is proud to be supporting this innovative effort in partnership with Don and Marnie and with CLC,” said Jim Oldham, Executive Director of Equity Trust.