The Westchester Land Trust (WLT) announced this week that it secured protection from development for Stuart’s Fruit Farm through a conservation easement.
The project—which took a decade to complete —is valued at almost $3 million.
The conservation easement removes the development rights on the farm’s 172 acres thereby ensuring the land remains available for agricultural use in perpetuity. In the absence of this conservation easement, the farmland could have been sold for residential development.
“The protection of Stuart’s Fruit Farm is the product of years of work and is a tribute to the commitment that the Stuart family and our community have to our agricultural heritage,” said Lori Ensinger, Westchester Land Trust’s president. “It has been a joy and an honor to work with the Stuarts to help protect this cherished resource. We are grateful to all of our funding partners for investing with us in the permanent protection of Stuart’s Farm and believing in the importance of keeping farmland available for generations to come.”
State farmland protection projects are time-intensive and involve a competitive application process. In 2016, WLT was awarded a highly competitive $1.84 million dollar Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program (HVAEP) grant from New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets to facilitate the acquisition of the farm’s development rights.
“I often think about the future of this land that has been in our family for seven generations. We have customers who’ve picked apples here as a child who now bring their grandchildren to the orchard. We are so grateful to all who worked with us on this conservation easement because we can rest assured knowing the land we love and share with thousands of visitors each year, is safe from development forever,” said Bob Stuart who owns the farm with his sister, Mary Lee Stuart Gerlach. “Our parents, Lee and Mary Stuart, would be thrilled knowing that the future of the farm will continue in our family.”
Established in 1828, the farm attracts visitors from the tristate area who pick peaches and apples, purchase produce and flowers at the onsite farm stand, select Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees, and recreate along the adjacent North County Trailway. Stuart’s is also a destination for thousands of schoolchildren who visit each year to learn about Westchester’s agricultural heritage.
“Scenic Hudson is delighted to participate in this model of public-private collaboration with the Westchester Land Trust, Town of Somers, Westchester County, New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets—and, of course, the Stuart family—to conserve this productive land and community resource,” said Scenic Hudson Land Trust Executive Director Steve Rosenberg.
“Stuart’s Farm not only provides consumers with fresh, local fruits and vegetables but allows visitors to learn about the importance of local agriculture.”
WLT’s partners in this project also included Scenic Hudson Land Trust and Somers Land Trust.
“Protecting the beauty of Granite Springs Road and a working farm with such a rich history is an invaluable product of this partnership,” said Supervisor, Rick Morrissey. “The announcement of this conservation easement is an incredible gift to all who live, work, and recreate in New York.”
Westchester Land Trust works with public and private partners to preserve land in perpetuity and to enhance the natural resources in Westchester and eastern Putnam counties—a densely populated region under persistent threat from the pressures of development. Through the use of conservation easements and outright acquisition, WLT’s efforts aim to benefit the long-term health of these communities by safeguarding air quality, food supply and community character, as well as critical watershed areas. Since its founding in 1988, WLT has preserved almost 8,000 acres of open space including more than 700 acres of preserves owned by the organization, which are free and open to the public year round.
“Somers Land Trust is delighted to see the fruition of years of effort to finally and fully protect Stuart’s Farm. It is a priceless asset as one of the last of Westchester’s working farms and its agricultural history now will be preserved for all to enjoy,” said Somers Land Trust President Michael Barnhart. “Many, many thanks to the generous partners who came together to make this happen.”