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GREENWICH — Nearly 1,300 acres of Washington County at-risk farmland will be permanently protected from development by the latest round of state farmland protection grants awarded by the governor’s office in late December.

New York Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, congratulated the four Washington County farms that got grants.

The competitive grants, awarded every two years, preserve the state’s open spaces, guaranteeing that valuable farmlands continue as working farms and farm owners receive financial support to continue operating.

This year’s $35 million in farmland funding has been awarded to 40 farms across 19 counties and will protect 13,000 acres of agricultural land across the state.

In the Capital Region, 15 projects covering 3,492 acres were awarded $7.4 million; locally, in Washington County, four farms were awarded $1,889,670.

Farmers are restricted from applying directly for the grants, so land trusts work with farms to file applications and hold the land in trust. The Washington County land trust is the Agricultural Stewardship Association in Greenwich, one of only two land trusts in New York that focuses exclusively on farmland conservation.

“The farms in Washington County that have been awarded funding through these grants belong to four family-owned businesses with diverse operations,” said ASA Executive Director Teri Ptacek. “They are important contributors to our local economy, providing not only milk, cheese, meats and apples for our store shelves; combined they employ more than 75 people. Their commitment to farming spans generations and ASA is incredibly grateful to help facilitate the protection of their farmland.”

Washington County farms included in the land trust grant are as follows:

  • Woody Hill Farms in White Creek was awarded $508,294 to permanently protect a 286-acre property owned by the Sheldon and Cary families, which will help support their 1,250-head dairy operation, one of the largest in the county.
  • Simply Grazin, an organic pork and grass-fed beef farm owned and operated by Mark Faille, was awarded $650,017 to permanently protect a 547-acre portion of the Fort Edward Farm.

According to office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Simply Grazin was the first farm in the country to receive the highest level certification from Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare recognition program.

  • Hicks Orchard, the state’s oldest pick-your-own orchard, owned by Daniel Wilson in Granville, was awarded $536,991 to permanently protect the 351-acre orchard.
  • Relihan Farm, owned by Ed Meagher in White Creek, was awarded $194,368 to permanently protect the 100-acre property that serves as a buffer to the Owl Kill, a state-classified trout stream.

Being awarded a land trust grant is a detailed endeavor. Farm owners do not receive the total amount of the award, because funds to establish the farmlands as a land trust are taken out of the total.

“There are appraisals, surveys, attorney fees,” said Renee Bouplon, ASA associate director. “There are about $35,000 to $40,000 in fees when the easement closes.”

ASA is a private nonprofit organization established by farmers and land conservationists 27 years ago. It currently holds trusts for 128 properties and 20,789,902 acres of farmland, with another 4,000 in the works.

Cuomo’s office posted the call for grant applications in May 2018, giving the association three months to complete a lengthy process before the August deadline.

“We have multiple meetings with land owners,” said Chris Krahling, project manager. “We need town support from each municipality and we have to get on the agendas at town meetings to get letters of endorsement.”

Ptacek added that once the preliminary work is completed, it takes a week to complete the application for each farm.

According to Bouplon, the state limits the number of grant applications they can file. This year, the association was capped at eight.

“We analyze maps and rank the farms,” said Bouplon. “Then we look at the (state) plans and see if the project might fit.”

Ptacek said all eight of the applications — four in Washington County and four in Rensselear County — were awarded grants. The state looks for projects that document development pressures, viability, farms that are cost-effective, have good soils, good management and farms with a succession plan, she said.

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Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.

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