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.