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Agricultural Stewardship AssociationAgricultural Stewardship Association

About ASA

Frequently Asked Questions

Protecting our community's working farms and forests, connecting people to the land, and promoting a vibrant future for agriculture and forestry in our region.

ASA was formed as a private non-profit land trust in 1990 by a small group of local visionary farmers and landowners who saw how farms around Albany NY were disappearing under shopping malls and subdivisions. They wanted to save our highly productive soils so that agriculture would have a place in our community and local economy for generations to come.

ASA works to ensure a vibrant future for agriculture and working forests in Washington and Rensselaer counties by protecting and stewarding land as well as actively supporting farm and forest viability. ASA also connects people to the land by hosting programs and events on conserved land. ASA is one of very few land trusts in New York State focused exclusively on conserving working farms and forests.

To achieve our goal of ensuring that working lands will always be a core part of this region’s future, we believe we need to conserve a minimum of 50,000 to 60,000 acres.

ASA has an excellent reputation across New York State as a highly capable organization. As of today, ASA has conserved over 24,000 acres of farmland on 144 properties that are protected in perpetuity. As ASA celebrates its 30th anniversary, it expects to have conserved 30,000 acres forever by the end of 2022 . Very few nonprofit organizations can point to a permanent impact like this. In addition:

 

· ASA is one of 442 land trusts (out of a total of 1,363 in the United States) accredited by the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission adhering to nationally established standards and practices.

· ASA’s track record of securing government funding to conserve working lands is substantial. Since 1997, ASA has been awarded nearly $28 million in state and federal funding to conserve working land in this area.

· ASA has always, and will always, include a broad spectrum of community members on its Board, including significant farmer representation.

· ASA has experienced, professional staff passionate about farmland and working forest conservation.

ASA has earned the trust of the local farm community. ASA operates the farmland conservation program for both Washington and Rensselaer counties. ASA oversaw the update to the Washington County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan and ASA receives financial support from Rensselaer County.

With less than 3% of the Earth’s surface suitable for farming, fertile soil is an increasingly precious and irreplaceable resource. We have lost 60% of our farmland in the Capital District region since the 1980s. Local forests are critical to mitigating climate change as well as providing jobs and bringing money into the region.

 

The spectacular rolling hills and valleys of the Upper Hudson Valley make this area a unique resource for the greater Northeast for these reasons:

  • Excellent farmland that is still very affordable. On average, it costs about $1,500 to conserve an acre of land in Washington or Rensselaer counties. (It costs at least four times as much – and sometimes many times more - to conserve an acre of farmland in most New York counties south of Rensselaer.)
  • Plentiful, clean water.
  • A robust agribusiness sector including farm equipment distributorships, as well as feed, fertilizer, financial and veterinary service providers.
  • Over 200 years of shared agricultural experience and expertise within our farming communities.
  • New start-up ventures in vegetable farming, grass-fed livestock, vineyards and farm breweries, and an increased interest in grain farming.
  • A five-hour travel time from access to over 60 million consumers – the largest consumer food market in the United States.
  • And far from least, a region wide appreciation for these unique and historic working landscapes, many of which lie within view of the Saratoga Battlefield, the site of the “Turning Point” during the Revolutionary War.

Agriculture is not a fringe or "nice to have" local industry in Washington and Rensselaer counties. It is a key component of our economy that annually generates over $200 million in revenue and provides hundreds of jobs in these two counties.

At the same time, there is substantial development pressure on these two counties. Saratoga County to the west is the fastest growing county in New York State. While ASA is not against economic development and job creation, we believe strongly that development should not take place on good farmland.

ASA helps landowners protect their land from development through conservation easements. A conservation easement is a private contract between ASA and a landowner under which the landowner chooses to either sell or donate the right to develop the land . The right to develop the land is permanently extinguished while still permitting agricultural, forestry and home-based businesses.

The land remains on the tax rolls at its agricultural or forestry use assessment value, as applicable.

Agriculture keeps local property taxes lower than if the land were developed for residential purposes. Multiple studies confirm that farms and forests pay more in taxes than they receive back in public services . Simply put, people need more services (roads, schools, law enforcement, etc.) than fields, meadows, crops, farm animals and forests.

 

The landowner still owns and manages the conserved property. The landowner retains the right to sell, lease, gift, or transfer the property. However, any new, and all subsequent, owners must abide by the terms of the easement.

Since most farmers cannot afford to donate their development rights, ASA applies for Federal and New York State government grants to buy the development rights from farmers. This enables farmers to make substantial upgrades to farm operations, pay for their retirements, or makes it affordable for farmers to transfer their farms to the next generation. The purchase price of the easement is determined by New York State certified appraisers based on the difference between what is the land worth if it is conserved, versus the value if it were not conserved.

Some people donate their rights to develop their land, most often inspired by a desire to leave a legacy to future generations, or because they feel it is the “right thing to do” as stewards of the land. There are financial incentives to donating development rights, including estate planning, state and federal income tax deductions, and state property tax credits. Approximately half of ASA’s easements have been donated.

If a landowner does not abide by the terms of the easement, ASA is obligated to defend and, if necessary, enforce its easements through litigation. We have set funds aside and a special insurance policy to ensure that our conservation easements are upheld in perpetuity. Largely as a result of good stewardship practices, to date, ASA has not had to defend or enforce an easement through legal action.

ASA annually monitors every conserved property to ensure the landowner complies with the easement agreement. Easement landowners are ASA’s partners in conservation, and we work closely with them to fulfil our mission to maintain vibrant rural communities.

A minimum of $15,650 is set aside in a restricted fund to monitor, defend and, if necessary, enforce each new easement in perpetuity. Either the landowner has the resources to donate this “stewardship” money or ASA raises these funds.

ASA facilitates numerous educational and outreach programs each year, including workshops on agriculture, forest management and safe logging. ASA introduces urban kids to farms and local food. For many years, ASA has hosted a farm photography camp for urban youth.

ASA has, for nearly 20 years, hosted an annual Landscapes for Landsake Art Exhibition. One of the region’s largest cultural events attended by over 2,000 people annually, the event features art produced by a local and vibrant artistic community drawn to this area by its uniquely beautiful landscapes. ASA hosts an annual Forever Farmland Supper that brings over 350 supporters together to celebrate with an outdoor local food feast.

In 2019, ASA purchased its first piece of land, the 140-acre Cambridge Community Forest. The Forest will provide a demonstration site for sustainable forest management as well as new recreational and educational opportunities for the region.

To ensure that high quality farmland continues to be available to the next generation, ASA actively participates in American Farmland Trust’sHudson Valley Farmlink Network and Farmland for a New Generation New York program. These programs help beginning farmers as well as farmers looking to transfer their land to the next generation. Services include a website where farmers can look for land to purchase, lease or manage, and where landowners can list farms available for sale or lease. ASA also hosts farm tours and programs for farm-seekers and has made successful matches as a result.

ASA has total assets close to $3 million as of December 2020. ASA recently completed a successful Forever Farmland Campaign that raised $17.9 million through government grants as well as private sources.

In FY2019/20, most of ASA’s funding came from the following:

51.5% government grants

40.3% individual contributions, business support and fundraising events

8.2% grants from private foundations

Only about 17.3% of ASA’s expenses go towards management and fundraising.

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