ANCRAMDALE—It is the hope of Donald and Marnie MacLean that the land they have worked for 35 years will be saved in perpetuity for generations of farmers to come.
In an effort to make that happen the MacLeans have joined with Columbia Land Conservancy to ask the community for monetary support.
The MacLeans have been farming at the Thompson-Finch Farm, 750 Wiltsie Bridge Road, since 1982.
For all that time, while they built their business, they leased the 200-acre property from Mrs. MacLean’s parents.
Since 1988, the farm has been certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY (NOFA-NY) and has become well-known regionally as one of the oldest and largest pick-your-own operations around. They grow 4.5 acres of strawberries, which loyal customers from across the Tri-State area can’t wait to pluck at the peak of ripeness each June. The farm also has a 1.5-acre apple orchard, an acre of blueberries, a half-acre of raspberries and fields of organic vegetables as well.
After her parents died, Mrs. MacLean and her four siblings became the fifth generation of the family to own the farm. But the decision was made to sell the property on the open market.
The MacLeans realized they had only a brief window of time to purchase the farm, Mrs. MacLean told The Columbia Paper this week. So last fall, they took out a short-term loan for $1.5 million from Equity Trust to secure the land and at the same time entered into a collaboration with the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) to help pay the loan back.
According to a press release from CLC, Equity Trust is a non-profit organization that “helps communities to gain ownership interests in land and other local resources, and helps people to make economic changes that balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the community, the earth, and future generations.”
The MacLeans, Equity Trust and CLC have now “formed the Thompson-Finch Farm Collaborative to permanently protect the property’s ecologically important resources and offer public education opportunities while allowing future generations of farmers to continue to work the land,” said the release.
Mrs. MacLean said the endeavor is a “pilot project” for CLC in that the organization has not had a part in the purchase of active farmland before, but rather has had farmland gifted to them.
In this case if all goes according to plan, CLC will ultimately own the land, not the MacLeans, and the Dutchess Land Conservancy will hold the conservation easement. Scenic Hudson and the Hudson Valley Farmland Protection Fund are also partners in the farmland protection effort.
“We wanted to do it differently; we did not want to own the land only to sell it later. We wanted to save it in perpetuity for other farmers who want to farm in Columbia County,” said Mrs. MacLean.
The collaboration with CLC was key in securing the loan. Equity Trust would not have loaned the MacLeans that amount of money, she explained, saying, “We do not have those financial credentials.” All the elements and the “mode of understanding where we were going” needed to be in place.
Mrs. MacLean said their original concept was that they did not want to see another farmer go through what they had gone through, to be faced with leaving their business and seeing it sold.
“The collaborative effort has already secured nearly $500,000 of the estimated $1.5 million needed to purchase and protect the farm,” the CLC release said.
CLC, Equity Trust and the MacLeans will now launch a fundraising campaign.
When the farm opens for strawberry-picking in mid-June, CLC staff and volunteers will have a table near the farmstand where they will be available to speak with visitors about the project and the long-term plan for the farm.
“The goal of the campaign is to enable CLC to own the farmland and lease it to current and future farmers in a long-term, secure arrangement, while the farmers build equity through ownership of infrastructure… A small public trail leading to the banks of the Roeliff Jansen Kill is planned for the property, along with educational programming,” the release said.
Donations may be made at clctrust.org/thompsonfinchfarm or call John Horton at 518 392-5252 ext. 210.
“Thompson-Finch Farm has been a highly-regarded and beloved farm of our community for many, many years. Don and Marnie have successfully balanced productive agriculture with the protection of important and fragile natural ecosystems. If we are successful with our campaign, members of the community will be able to continue to enjoy the farm and all that it has to offer for many generations to come,” CLC Executive Director Peter Paden said in the release.
If the project succeeds and the money is raised, the MacLeans will enter into a 99-year lease with CLC, said Mrs. MacLean.
When the couple retires, they will pass on the lease to the farmer of CLC’s choosing.
Noting the high visibility of the project, Mrs. MacLean said, “if the public puts up the money and bets on it,” farmer candidates will be carefully scrutinized by CLC and a panel of farmers. “It won’t be someone chosen because [he or she] is our friend,” she said.
Instead, the next farmer chosen will have to be experienced and will likely have to work alongside the MacLeans on the farm before getting CLC’s approval.
The farm will remain a “real business, it will not be a not-for-profit,” said Mrs. MacLean, who added that the land will remain on the tax rolls.
As for when they will retire, Mr. MacLean is 60 and Mrs. MacLean is 65. “We don’t have a retirement plan,” she said. “We’re not thinking about that, we’re still working. We’re more careful now, we know more and we do a better job.”
To learn more about the Thompson-Finch Farm visit http://thompsonfinch.com/
To contact Diane Valden email moc.r1516360144epapa1516360144ibmul1516360144oc@ne1516360144dlavd1516360144