Copake rallies around farming

Town adopts detailed Farmland Protection Plan

COPAKE—The Town Board has insured that the longstanding tradition of farming here will live on with the adoption of an Agricultural Farmland Protection Plan.

At its January 8 meeting, the Town Board approved the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan as an addendum to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Copake’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2011, “identified and celebrated the role of agriculture in the town and set in motion plans to ensure that it stays the backbone of the community,” according to a summary of the new protection plan.

After receiving a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets “to develop a town-level plan to protect and enhance agriculture” in December 2012, a local committee was appointed and met for the first time in February 2013. A planning consultant was hired to assist.

After losing a couple of members along the way, the committee, co-chaired by Dr. George Beneke and Edgar Masters, consisted of William Kiernan, Jr., Ejay Eisen, Christie Hegarty and Lia Babitch. Councilmember Jeanne Mettler served as Town Board liaison.

The plan’s goal was to “identify farmlands to be protected; develop strategies and programs to protect farmland and encourage agriculture: build a consensus among town officials, farmers and landowners about how to implement farmland protection strategies and encourage agriculture; and make suggestions, where necessary, to update land use and zoning regulations to become consistent with protecting farmland and encouraging agriculture,” according to its mission statement.

In the course of developing the plan, the committee gathered input from town residents, landowners, farmers, town and county officials, and county and state agricultural experts about what Copake should do to support agriculture, protect farming and encourage farmland preservation.

The group conducted a thorough analysis of farmland and farming in town, with an inventory and a map showing important farmland soils and active farmlands.

The document identifies strategies and tactics to make sure the town’s agricultural sector continues to thrive and builds on the Rural Water Study, completed in 2009. The committee collaborated with other farm, resource and preservation agencies and groups.

A snapshot of agriculture in Copake, contained in the plan, found that about 40% of all land in town is used for agriculture. About 35 farms exist in town and that number is growing. The average farm size is 65 acres, though sizes vary widely and some are very large.

Among the findings:

  • Copake agricultural products include dairy, beef, hay, horses, a variety of livestock, poultry, fruit, vegetables, corn, grain, wood products, nursery plants, bees, maple syrup, hops, alfalfa, soybeans and seeds
  • Dairy, beef and hay are the predominant agricultural products
  • 13% of farms are organic
  • Copake farms and land used in agriculture contribute about $13 million in assessed land value. Add in land that is part of a residential parcel used for agriculture and the contribution grows to about $26 million
  • 14,054 acres are in the state Agricultural District, 78% or 10,914 acres are in active farming; about 149 farmed parcels are located within the state Agricultural District; 9,199 acres receive an agricultural assessment as part of the New York State program or about 84% of all farmlands
  • About half of Copake’s farms have prime farmland soils or soils of statewide importance
  • 40% of Copake farmers rely on rented land to support their operations.

In voicing her support for the Ag and Farmland Protection Plan and the work of the committee, Councilmember Mettler said the diverse committee included young new farmers as well as those with long experience in agriculture. “They worked diligently and under the leadership of Edgar Masters and Dr. George Beneke they finished this plan expeditiously,” she said. “We also benefited tremendously from the expertise and knowledge of our consultant, Nan Stoltzenburg,” who also served as consultant on the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Ms. Mettler chaired the town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee.

The Ag and Farmland Protection Plan Committee developed a farm and farmland inventory complete with GIS-based maps, surveyed farmers and farmland owners about attitudes, issues, needs and future plans.

The plan was the subject of two public hearings.

“This is a very thorough and well researched plan… comprehensive and forward thinking. I think it reflects the sentiments and the desires of the people of Copake,” said Ms. Mettler.

All board members voted in favor, with the exception of the board’s newest member, Terry Sullivan, who took her seat on the board for the first time at the meeting. Ms. Sullivan abstained from the vote saying she was coming in on the tail end of the process and still had questions.

In other business, the board heard from Yvonne Acevedo, who served as secretary to the Land Use Review Committee (LURC) during 2014. In response to her inquiry about continued funding for her position, Supervisor Jeff Nayer said no money is budgeted for the job in 2015.

LURC Chair Bob Haight said that Ms. Acevedo was “an excellent secretary and a great help” but that he had made a deal that with the Town Board that if they would fund a secretary for a year, his committee would finish its work. The year is up and the committee is not finished, but Mr. Haight said he would not ask for any more money to pay a secretary.

Frank Peteroy, a LURC member, asked the board to reconsider funding the position.

The board meets next Thursday, February 12 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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