WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – Through a combined effort of the Town of Williamstown Select Board and peer land trusts, and with generous support from the community, Williamstown Rural Lands (WRL) last week purchased ten acres of active farmland on Oblong Road with frontage on a scenic by-way, preserving both farming and a special view of the Greylock massif.
The Trustees of Reservations will buy the development rights for the parcel from Rural Lands, placing a farm-forward conservation restriction on it, thereby preserving the land in perpetuity.
“This was a special opportunity to protect a unique piece of land and many people deserve credit for this acquisition. The Select Board, our WRL board, our new Executive Director Robin Sears, many residents, and peers at Berkshire Natural Resources Council all worked for a year to protect this special land” said WRL President Greg Islan.
The Trustees Interim President and CEO Nicie Panetta said, “We are thrilled to work with the wonderful team at Rural Lands to conserve this critical parcel along the Oblong Road corridor. Our 300-acre Field Farm property is nearby, and we are excited about expanding the positive impact of protecting farmland and scenic views as well as enhancing public access in this area of Williamstown.”
The conservation of this parcel secures a key link in a conservation corridor of forest and farmland immediately to the south and northeast. It protects a key section of Sweet Brook, which drains down from the Taconic Ridge into a series of wetlands and ponds and comprising the headwaters of Hemlock Brook, which feeds into the Hoosic River.
The parcel has for multiple generations been under stewardship by the Phelps family, which until the close of last century, owned vast acreage in the immediate area. “We are thrilled that a portion of the farmland that has been in our family for nine generations will enjoy the protection it deserves,” said Sarah (Phelps) Lipinski, who with her husband Darryl owns and operates Sweet Brook Farm. The adjacent acreage, over 100 acres, owned by Sweet Brook Farm will be temporarily preserved for farming through a 10-year covenant with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s (MDAR) Farm Viability Enhancement Program. “While we intend to pursue permanent conservation the whole farm at the expiration of this agricultural covenant, we could not pass up the opportunity to work with MDAR’s Farm Viability Program to plan and invest in the long-term business viability of our farm.”
According to American Farmland Trust, over 80% of Berkshire County’s agriculture land is not permanently protected. Rural Lands plans to lease the pasture to a neighboring farm operator.
“If we want to have farms in Williamstown five or ten years from now, it’s critical to protect the farmland in town” said Sarah Gardner, of the Williams College Center for Environmental Studies and Chair of the town’s Agricultural Commission. “Farms can’t compete with homebuyers in the real estate market. There are about 12 farms left in Williamstown but half are not expected to be in business 10 years out. Most farmers here are in their 60s or 70s, and many lack a successor. The wonderful thing about this project is that it supports young enthusiastic farmers who are investing in their farm, expanding their operation, and who plan to stay in business for the long term. The preservation of this parcel, which is designated as Farmland of Local Importance, increases the viability of Williamstown’s agricultural economy.”
“This has been an exciting and complicated project, which landed on my desk the first day I took the helm of the organization last March,” said Sears, a forest ecologist. “The parcel holds tremendous value of diverse sorts. The preservation of the pasture and a sugarbush, both utilized by Sweet Brook Farm, supports a local livelihood and provides healthy foods. It protects a key section of the cold-water Sweet Brook, which drains a sub-basin of the Taconic Ridge into a series of wetlands and ponds and comprising the headwaters of Hemlock Brook. The hedgerow at the back of the plot is excellent habitat for birds that thrive in open spaces. To say nothing of the tremendous view, which is now protected to be enjoyed by everyone who passes by.”
“As this project demonstrates, conserving even small acreages of threatened farmland can often require a tremendous amount of creativity, partnerships, fundraising, and planning. American Farmland Trust was glad to be one of the many organizations who helped to weigh in on possible strategies to permanently conserve this portion of such an historically and culturally important farm in Williamstown,” said Jamie Pottern, New England Program Manager with the American Farmland Trust.
“Massachusetts has the second highest farm real estate values in the nation and according to AFT’s Farms Under Threat study, the state is projected to lose nearly 74,000 acres of farmland by 2040. High costs of land, housing, and rapidly increasing development pressure are making it exceedingly difficult to keep farmland in farming and farmers on the land.”
Williamstown Rural Lands is a non-profit, member-supported land conservation trust founded in 1986 and dedicated to preserving the rural New England character of Williamstown and the surrounding area. WRL owns nearly 1000 acres of forest, meadow and farmland and protects an additional 300 privately-held acres through holding a conservation restriction or agricultural easement. Information about WRL and their upcoming events and properties is available at www.rurallands.org.