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Spreading the No Farms No Food® Message in New York: An Interview with David Haight, New York Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust and what has kept you here for 13 years?

New York farmer walking through field with sonsI grew up in a very rural part of Upstate New York in a community that was dominated by dairy farms and apple trees. What I always appreciated growing up was the importance of helping to protect the natural environment but also to do it in a way that would allow people to make a living from the land. I saw it first-hand in the work that my neighbors were doing. American Farmland Trust is a national leader in finding ways of protecting the land but also supporting the people that are making their living from that land. So AFT was a natural fit.

Part of the reason I am still here is the people. I very much enjoy the people that have worked for American Farmland Trust. The commitment they have for the mission of this organization is very deep. We also work with some tremendous partners here in New York and we have the opportunity to see people that are really having an impact on the lives of a lot of New Yorkers.

Every day is a little different. No two days are the same and I think there are incredible challenges here and that makes coming to work fun.

What was one of the greatest accomplishments in for American Farmland Trust in New York in 2012?

I think it was a pivot year for AFT and our work in New York. Let’s face it, the last four years have been really, really tough. A lot of the public funding sources that we rely on for our work have been decimated. I think that in 2012 we saw that perhaps we are starting to rebuild some of the things that have been hurt so deeply. For example, our state farmland protection program got a boost in funding in 2012, up to $12 million. That program permanently protected 20 farms in 2011-2012. Those are 20 farm families and it is 6,000 acres of farmland that is now going to be permanently protected in this state.

We also really are at the earliest stages in, I think, some of the most exciting projects we’ve had here at AFT in a long time. Diane Held’s work with the New Generation Farmer initiative in helping new farmers find land in helping the senior generation transfer their farms successfully, I think the work is phenomenal. The Farms to Institutions in New York State initiative has just tremendous potential for AFT. I’m very excited about some of the work that Laura TenEyck is doing with an engagement campaign and hopefully in 2013 we’re going to take significant steps forward in getting more New Yorkers personally involved in helping stop the loss of farmland. I see the potential being very bright for AFT and our work in 2013.

Could you share an inspiring or memorable moment from the No Farms No Food Rally and Lobby Day?

I have the mental image of our Lieutenant Governor [Robert Duffy] joining us, talking about Governor Cuomo’s commitment to food and agriculture as an economic development priority. He was the mayor of the city of Rochester when American Farmland Trust gave Rochester the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award. He has seen personally how agriculture has such economic development potential in New York and how that can mean new jobs and new opportunities. He spoke very eloquently about that.

So did Robert Morgantheau who was our keynote speaker and a former Manhattan district attorney. It was a very heartening thing to see Mr. Morgantheau there with his son Josh, who is now managing their family farm in the Hudson Valley, pointing to the connection that farms have to our history, talking about Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill visiting their farm. But then he quickly moved into how their farm is helping to bring fresh produce into different communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan and the new CSA that they have. This connection with our history and our legacy in the Hudson Valley but also a lot of the interest in better diet and public health and some of the other connections we have here in New York. Those two people saying some of the things that they did really stood out for me. Laurie what comes to your mind when you think back?

Is there anyone that has inspired the way you thought about a challenge or approach with your land transition and next generation farmer work in New York?

We held two next generation farmer forums here in New York, one in Hyde Park last fall and one out in east Aurora. Matt Schober (Cool Whisper Farm) spoke, a farmer from Columbia County who was dealing with a farm transfer problem and wanted to get into grass-fed beef. The family had a small dairy farm in the Hudson Valley. His dad wanted to bring him back home to the family farm but he couldn’t afford to just gift the farm to his one son that wanted to come home. He didn’t feel it was fair. And the son was grappling with, “How do we make this work?”

For me, Matt just crystalized so much of the challenge for that senior generation, for his dad, but then also for him, as somebody that wanted to continue this family farm but was just struggling with the same sets of issues. Even though he grew up on a farm, he had gone off to school and he knew agriculture. It wasn’t a new experience for him but the challenges were so real. We need to be talking about both sides of the story. I think sometimes you get caught up in the young person that’s getting into agriculture. I think that’s a compelling story but we can’t forget the other side of the equation.

What are the most important steps moving forward in 2013 for your work in New York?

There are a few things that we’re going to be rolling forward with in 2013. We have one of our biggest water quality projects on eastern Long Island. We started to work with 10 farmers in helping them reduce their use of fertilizer to help protect Long Island Sound. I think we’re poised in 2013 to really ramp that up a notch and expand the number of farmers we work with and start looking at other types of crops that farmers are growing.

Our plans are to launch in 2013 this Greater Hudson Valley FarmLink network which will be a combination of a website, a series of training programs, and a network of supporting match facilitators to connect people that are looking for farms and have farmland available. So that is, I think, a very exciting program for 2013.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012: Better than Ever!

Farm and food advocates from around New York State laid solid groundwork for legislative funding to protect farmland, and sustain the business of agriculture, at American Farmland Trust’s third annual No Farms, No Food® Rally, held February 15 in Albany.

Our latest Rally brought together more than 100 individuals, representing 70 supporting organizations, and sent a powerful message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Commissioner of Agriculture Darrel Aubertine, state legislators, and other New Yorkers. That message? We must strengthen our farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment, and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York. Many participants described the day as “the best No Farms, No Food® Rally yet.”

An Administration Committed to Supporting Farms

2012 No Farms No Food Rally Participants

Jeff Jones, Land Trust Alliance; Janet Thompson, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust; Fred Huneke, WAC; Stephen Kidd, Urban Garden in Harlem; Terry Wilbur, Oswego County Legislature. photo credit: Dietrich Gehring

Key state leaders underscored their commitment to strengthening New York’s farm and food policy. Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, along with state agriculture committee chairs Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Bill Magee, joined us at the Rally and spoke in support of our pro-farm agenda.

Robert Morgenthau, former Manhattan District Attorney and Special Counsel to American Farmland Trust, introduced Lieutenant Governor Duffy. In his opening remarks, Morgenthau, who owns a family farm in Dutchess County, explained the state’s commitment to farmland this way, “There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that the state doesn’t have a lot of excess money around, and in past years the protection of farmland has not been a priority for the state. The good news is this administration is committed 100 percent to supporting farms.”

Lieutenant Governor Duffy, in his remarks, praised New York State agriculture. “Not only do we have the greatest state in the nation, but we have the greatest agricultural state in the nation. Agriculture is a $4.7 billion industry in the state. That is huge.”

Duffy was emphatic about Governor Cuomo’s support for agriculture. “He gets it, he understands, he listens,” said Duffy. The Lieutenant Governor also spoke of  his own personal interest in visiting farms and talking directly with American Farmland Trust, farmers and other supporters of New York’s farm and food systems, and about ways the state can help farmers build our farm and food economy.

Buy Local

Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told an enthusiastic crowd that “eating local matters.” Ritchie represents one of the largest-dairy producing regions in the state.  It includes Oswego and Jefferson Counties, as well as the western half of St. Lawrence County. Ritchie is working with the state Office of General Services and Governor Cuomo to look for ways to bring more New York-produced food to Albany.

Rally participant Bhavani Jaroff of Long Island, and host of the Progressive Radio Network’s iEat Green, recorded her show from Albany on the day of the Rally.  She stressed to listeners and those in attendance that New York must “allocate enough money to keep farmers from needing to sell their land to developers in order to retire, and to make it possible for them to transition their land to a new generation of farmers.” Jaroff went on to say, “We all need to eat, and if we want access to fresh, local, sustainably raised fruits, vegetables and dairy, we need to support our farmers.”

Building Relationships

It is imperative that the voices of pro-farming, pro-farmland advocates ring throughout Albany in the days immediately ahead, as New York State leaders negotiate a budget and review pieces of legislation key to farming’s future.

Visit our website, to see great photos and media stories about the No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012. We encourage you to share the images and articles on your own websites and through social media to help spread the No Farms, No Food® message!

The deadline for a final state budget is March 30, though Governor Cuomo is shooting to have it completed even sooner.  Be sure to sign up for our email updates, if you haven’t already, and we’ll keep you updated during budget negotiations and as legislation we support makes its way through the legislature.

Last but certainly not least, remember that developing relationships with your elected leaders is critical!  Invite them to your farmers market, CSA or land trust event. Ask them to meet your town board or food co-op or take a tour of your community. They must not ever forget—No Farms, No Food®!


David Haight About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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Farm and Food News 10/7/11

Devoted Pennsylvania farmer honored

American Farmland Trust honored Bob Ambrose with the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Local Hero Award this week. Bob and his wife run a 130-acre farm and are dedicated to protecting farmland from development.

Growing vegetables and palates

FoodCrops continues to thrive in its first year of service. One corps member in Maine is teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables while eating healthier foods.

Creative (and manageable) solutions to farming

Sunnyside Farm in Dover, Pennsylvania, will be hosting a workshop on solutions to everyday farm problems on October 17th. Topics range from how to save thousands of gallons of water to learning about creating a pig-managed rototiller.

Grants awarded to beginning farmer programs nationwide

The USDA has awarded grants totaling more than $18 million for enhancing programming and support for beginning farmers and ranchers. Project funding was awarded nationwide, including support for the Stone Barns Center in New York.

More fruits and vegetables, how are you doing it?

The USDA is hosting a contest in which you submit short video clips on how you are adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while still watching your budget. There are three different categories that you can enter into: tips for kids, tips when eating at home, and tips when eating away from home. So how are you adding more fruits and veggies to your diet?

Pure fall farm beauty

If you haven’t had a chance to get out to the countryside recently to enjoy the beautiful fall, savor some gorgeous fall farm photos before marveling in your closest countryside soon.

Climate change impacting wine industry

Changes in climate felt throughout the nation could alter grape growing conditions in California wine country within the next 30 years. Changes are already being felt in Washington’s Puget Sound and Central New York where conditions, for the time being, are becoming more favorable for the wine industry.

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Rallying Around Our Farms and Food

National attention to concerns about food security, access to locally grown foods, and public health issues has never been higher and this focus is bringing together a diverse group of supporters with a shared energy to protect our farms and food. Farmers, ranchers, chefs, soup kitchen volunteers, environmentalists, urban gardeners, town officials, and local food advocates are agreeing on one thing: we must have local farms if we want to have local food.

Farms also remain critical to our economy. In New York, the state’s 30,000 farms sell more than $4.5 billion annually –milk, fruits, vegetables, meat, flowers, plants and so much more. Also, farms buy much of the goods and services they need to survive from other local businesses. Frequently overlooked is the network of connections between farms and thousands of New Yorkers employed at hardware stores, banks, farm equipment dealers and other enterprises that support local farms and food.

When you add together the businesses that sell goods and services to farmers, farm jobs and food processing companies, these enterprises generate a combined $30 billion a year in economic activity in just New York. With New York City residents alone spending more than $30 billion a year on food, the potential remains for growth in businesses involved in and connected to agriculture in the state.

This economic growth, however, is dependent on the viability of our working lands. Tragically, the United States continues to lose its valuable farmland to subdivisions, strip malls and other scattered development. Between 1982 and 2007 the nation lost more than 23,000,000 acres of farmland, an area the size of Indiana.

In New York, we have decided to channel the energy surrounding farm and food and work collectively to bring these issues to our state legislators.  People from across the state will be converging at the Capitol in Albany for our annual No Farms No Food® Rally and Lobby Day on March 30. Together, we will tell our elected officials that they must take action to stem the loss of farms that threatens our economy and food security.

The No Farms No Food® Rally and Lobby Day is in response to the urgent situation we face. New York’s remaining farmland is capable of feeding only 6 million of the state’s population of 19 million—that’s just 30 percent. What’s more, nationally, 91 percent of our fruits, nuts and berries, and 78 percent of our vegetables and melons are produced on land immediately outside of our cities—the very regions in the most danger of being consumed by urban sprawl. We simply can’t afford to lose another acre of farmland in this country.

Get involved and make a difference! If you live in New York,  attend our No Farms No Food® Rally and Lobby Day. In any state, share your concern about farmland loss by contacting your federal, state and local officials and make sure they know you support local agriculture and want farmland protected.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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New Resource Helps Communities Save Local Farms

New York State is losing farmland fast. The state has lost almost half a million acres of farmland to subdivisions, strip malls and scattered development in the last 25 years. In addition, New York’s remaining active agricultural land is capable of feeding only 6 million of the state’s 19 million residents. That’s only 30 percent of the state’s population! Our food security and economy are hurt as the state continues to lose farmland at a rate of 9,000 acres a year—the equivalent of one farm every 3 ½ days.

Rural communities in western and central New York along with the North Country have seen an influx of commuters from upstate cities and second home owners.  Meanwhile, the Hudson Valley and Long Island continue to experience some of the most intense development pressure in the nation.

Some of these impacts are glaring. Farm fields have been paved over with subdivisions, shopping plazas and parking lots. Other significant effects of poorly planned development are less visible. Farmland prices in many regions have risen to levels farmers can’t afford. Demand for public services goes up and as a result property taxes are rising.

Nevertheless, a growing number of New York communities are rediscovering something that used to be common sense:  Communities need local farms. Farms provide food and jobs. Farms protect water quality. Farms maintain scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat that not only attract tourist dollars but are integral to the quality of life of local people.

Our newly updated publication, Planning for Agriculture in New York: A Toolkit for Towns and Counties, gives farmers, local governments and communities the information they need to work together to put the brakes on poorly planned development and keep farmers farming.

This new resource profiles more than 80 case studies of towns and counties in New York and other states across America that have taken action to strengthen economic opportunities for local farmers and protect farmland from being lost to development. It describes 12 tools—from agricultural economic development programs, food procurement and health policies, zoning and purchase of development rights, right-to-farm laws and public education programs—that can be used by local governments to support the business of agriculture in their community.

Although focused on New York, the toolkit and accompanying appendix offer useful lessons about the programs and policies necessary for successful planning for agriculture in any community.  The guide also provides information on how to educate others on the value of our farms and farmland. In the end, our hope is that this new toolkit supports efforts to protect our agricultural land in New York and beyond.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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New York State Food Policy Council Considers Farmland Protection

In New York State a farm is lost to development every three days.  This startling reality has helped make the Empire State home to three of the Top Twenty Most Threatened Farming Regions in America. Together with our partners, we have made great strides in reducing the acres of farmland lost but much more work needs to be done.

Click to see full graph

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to discuss our need to protect farmland from poorly planned development and other farm and food issues as part of a panel presentation at the summer meeting of the New York State Council on Food Policy held in Harlem.  The Council on Food Policy makes policy recommendations to the Governor that ensure both the availability of fresh, nutritious and affordable food for all New Yorkers and a strong farm and food economy for New York State.

The Council’s recent meeting on the “New York Food System: Supply, Demand and Delivery,” was one of the first times the Council heard directly about the critical importance of farmland protection to the long-term security of the state’s food supply. More than 70 percent of the fruits, vegetables and dairy products produced in the country are grown in metro areas and are at risk of being lost to unplanned development.  A focus on preserving our working lands during food policy discussions is critical as agriculture lies at the heart of a viable food system (No Farms No Food, remember?).

Our presence at the Council on Food Policy meeting is just one example of the many ways in which we are working to integrate farmland protection into New York’s food and nutrition policies. Interest in making locally produced foods available to all, improving nutrition and fighting childhood obesity has never been greater. Through advocacy efforts, such as our No Farms No Food Rally held this spring at New York’s Capitol in Albany, we are working to engage new partners and stakeholders who are concerned about food issues in the fight to protect America’s farmland.

The need for farmland protection in New York State continues to accelerate beyond the funding available. Getting the facts out about food, farming and farmland to our state government is vital  to ensuring that the precious dollars available remain committed to protecting our farmland and, in turn, securing a healthy and accessible food system.

About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust. To see more posts by David, click here.


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New York Cuts Farmland Protection Funding in Half

The Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) is New York’s primary source of dedicated environmental funding and helps protect the state’s working farms, water, air and environmental and public health.  The Farmland Protection Program, a part of the EPF, funds the permanent protection of working farms and the development of town and county agriculture and farmland protection plans.  A recent 11th hour shake up between Governor Paterson and the Legislature has left funding for the state Farmland Protection Fund cut by $11.25 million (51%) and the EPF reduced by 37 percent.

What Happened?

In a last minute deal to reopen 55 state parks in time for Memorial Day, the Governor and Legislature agreed to pass a greatly reduced budget for the 2010-2011 EPF.  The negotiated $78 million cut to the EPF resulted in the state’s release of $11 million to reopen the closed parks. The negotiation occurred outside of the normal budget process and was not subject to any public conference committees.

These cuts will have a severe impact on the Farmland Protection Program, which now has a backlog of more than $70 million of committed projects. As money continues to be “borrowed” from the EPF to pay for non-environmental purposes, many environmental protection projects across the board are left unfunded, straining organizations, municipalities and others partnering with the state on environmental programs.

On a more positive note, our endangered state parks-vital to New Yorkers who rely on their economic activity and connection to nature-have reopened.  Another important victory for New Yorkers was the Legislature’s rejection of “offloads” to the EPF proposed by the Governor to pay for unassociated state agency operations and tax payments.

Unfortunately, these are not enough.

Going Forward

The state budget is now two months late and there are many issues to resolve before the end of the legislative session on June 21st; but a couple things are certain:

If we truly want to protect the clean air, water, natural areas, and working farms that benefit all New Yorkers, then there must be a repayment plan for the EPF and Farmland Protection Program– no exceptions.  We must also put an end to the raiding of these funds by our elected officials for non-environmental purposes.  And finally, we must get the budget passed!  There are many food and farm programs outside of the EPF whose budgets have not yet been decided.  As a result, vital programs like the New York Farm Viability Institute have suspended projects that help farmers develop new markets and more closely connect with consumers.

Every day we are urging legislators to reconsider cuts in EPF and Farmland Protection Program funding and advocating for a plan to repay the nearly half a billion dollars that has been swept from the EPF over the past several years for non-environmental purposes.

Please help us by telling your state legislators to restore funding for farm, food and farmland programs.

Together we can secure greater funding and ensure a better future for New York’s working farms, water, air and environmental and public health. Thanks!

About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust.

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