HUDSON VALLEY, NY—Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan, Greene County Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino, Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Veitch, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Scott B. Samuelson, Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Lindsay and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino are signaling their support for a state investment of $20 million for farmland protection in the Hudson Valley. The funding was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his executive budget, and the 11 county leaders are calling for support from the New York State Legislature to ensure the funding makes the final budget, due to be enacted in April. The county leaders state that preserving farmland offers numerous economic, public health and agriculture benefits, and also helps provide more fresh, local food to meet growing demand in the Hudson Valley and New York City.
Approximately 11 million New Yorkers, half the state’s population, rely upon Hudson Valley farms as a source of fresh produce and foods. Some of the state’s fastest growing counties—including Orange, Rockland, Saratoga and Westchester—derive food that comes from Hudson Valley farms. Hudson Valley agriculture is an $800-million industry that is ripe for expansion in part because the unmet demand each year for valley-grown food in New York City approaches $1 billion annually. Hudson Valley farms also are recognized for the role they play in maintaining scenic landscapes, rural heritage and quality of life, all of which help drive a multibillion-dollar tourism industry and fuel economic growth.
The public is made healthier by preserving Hudson Valley farms. Family-owned farms in the region are important to secure as a source of nourishing food and conserved farmland also safeguards wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive areas, including local aquifers and drinking-water supplies. Finally, eating healthier foods that don’t travel across the nation or world to reach consumers improves people’s health and the environment.
Despite rising consumer interest in farm-fresh food, the valley lost dozens of farms over the last five years. The high cost of land here makes it impossible for most farmers to buy land to expand their operations or for younger farmers to enter the business. The $20 million in state funding would join substantial monies being allocated to farmland preservation by county and municipal governments as well as private groups such as Scenic Hudson. Over the past two decades, conservation easements—paying farmers a portion of their land’s market value to ensure its permanent protection—have provided more than $100 million to valley farmers. Farmland protected by an easement is made more affordable and helps promote the next generation of sustainable agriculture.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “Protecting our farmland is critical to preserving our community character and promoting local agriculture. Agriculture is one of Dutchess County’s primary industries, with enormous potential for expanded growth. We are hopeful the state legislature will support Governor Cuomo’s proposal of $20 million for Hudson Valley farmland protection.”
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said, “As someone who was born and raised on a working farm in Ulster County, I have a special appreciation for farmland preservation and the importance of agriculture to our regional economy. The Governor’s initiative provides critical support towards achieving a more sustainable and resilient local food system while protecting the quality of life for residents across the Hudson Valley.”
“Orange County’s agricultural sector is critical to our economy and local heritage,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. “I applaud the Governor’s commitment to farmland preservation as a way to enhance the quality of life in the Hudson Valley and increase economic growth through agritourism and other rural initiatives.”
“Growing our economy while preserving the environment requires striking the right balance between commerce and nature,” said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino. “Farmland protection strikes a smart balance by preserving land, putting healthy food on tables, promoting jobs, saving our agricultural traditions and keeping local businesses strong.”
“Saratoga County has a great history of Farmland and Open Space protection. As a fast-growing County within New York, it is critical that we preserve as much open land and farms from the encroachment of suburban sprawl upon our landscape. For 2015, we restored our Open Space and Farmland Protection fund with $250,000 and additionally appropriated $100,000 for trail development,” said Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Veitch.
“I am pleased to support this investment in farmland protection as Albany County, with over 71,000 acres of land devoted to farming, has been doing and will continue to do,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “In 2013, we reopened Lawson’s Lake, our 420-acre park, giving the public the opportunity to appreciate the benefits of land preservation; Albany County has passed an Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan, a County Right to Farm Law, and adopted a resolution to purchase a portion of its food from local farmers and markets. Last month, the town of Berne purchased 350 acres in the Helderbergs to preserve the natural beauty in the hill towns. Albany County is working to enhance our open space and agricultural opportunities and this new investment will further protect family farms.”
“The future of agriculture in Columbia County looks very bright. Many farm products such as cheese are now sold throughout the eastern United States,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan. “We must encourage the growth of the Farm to Market enterprises in Columbia County.”
The governor’s commitment to farmland protection in the Hudson Valley is in addition to a $30-million commitment to six counties in the state’s Southern Tier for agricultural protection and related economic development, and $14 million in funding for farmland protection statewide to be funded via the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
An enhanced state commitment to preserving Hudson Valley farms aligns with numerous state policies and plans. The draft state Open Space Conservation Plan, the Hudson River Estuary Action Agenda and Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council and Capital District Regional Economic Development Council identify preservation of the valley’s working family farms as a priority.