203.27 ACRES CONSERVED IN TOWN OF EASTON
Collaboration between ASA and the Castanea Foundation allowed this farm to be purchased, conserved, and then sold at its agricultural value to the Michel family, a multigenerational family who had everything they needed for farming except their own land.
Two Generations. One Goal
Meet the Michel family: Bill and Joyce, their older son Scott and his wife Kelly and their younger son, Jeff and his wife Kim. Just looking at this group of hard-working, determined people, you know they could do anything they set their minds to.
Not only does this family want to farm, they are prepared to do it. Bill grew up working on the farm his family had owned for 250 years. Joyce was a town girl who quickly adapted and became dedicated to farm life. Their sons are 4H, FFA and Cobleskill grads; Scott in dairy and Jeff in diesel mechanics. Both managed to marry women who not only wanted to farm but have relevant skills. Kelly has applied her math degree from Allegheny College at the state’s office of Agricultural Statistics. Kim earned a master’s degree from Cornell and is now the agriculture teacher in Argyle.
How Do You Farm without a Farm?
They had experience. They had education. They had cows. They had equipment. But, for a long time, they had no land. Bill and Joyce didn’t inherit the family business. They were determined to stay in farming, however, and the family became renters, moving several times; once packing up everything, including 100 cows, in two days. It was a very stressful way to farm, but they hung on because it was the life they loved.
Finding a Farm: A Team Effort
Then Kelly just happened to talk to someone who mentioned that he had land for sale in Easton and did she know anyone who was looking? The family jumped at the opportunity. In 2003 she and Scott moved into their new home on Hoag Road. The house was a disaster, but the land was just what they wanted. Jeff caught the next break when they learned about a conserved farm in Easton that was for sale. Castanea Foundation, one of ASA’s conservation partners, had recently purchased the 200-acre Cary farm in Easton and was looking for a qualified farmer to buy it at its agricultural value.
A New Tool in Conservation
Near the end of his life, Dick Cary got in contact with ASA to arrange to sell part of his farm to give him some money to live on without selling off any lots. When Mr. Cary died in 2006, ASA called on Castanea Foundation for assistance. Castanea purchased the farm from Mr. Cary’s estate, and together with ASA, they decided to try an innovative idea.
In addition to placing an agricultural conservation easement on the land to protect it, ASA and Castanea developed a Preemptive Right to Purchase agreement (see sidebar) which meant that if the farm was ever to be sold to someone other than a family member or farmer, ASA would have the right to repurchase the farm at its agricultural value. This way the land wouldn’t be lost to farming by sale to someone who wasn’t interested in working it.
Another unusual aspect of the sale was that Castanea Foundation considered buyers not only on their ability to pay, but also what they planned to do. The Michel family’s proposal was a winner. They had a good business plan to use the Hoag Road farm for milking and the Cary Farm for heifers, plans for improving the soils and bringing back overgrown fields, and, very importantly, plans to make a home for a young farming family.
Home at Last
Kim and Jeff moved onto the farm in May and by September the progress that had been made on the house, the farm buildings and land was already impressive, especially when you consider that among the six Michel adults they hold down four outside jobs, have three children (Patrick 10, Travis 4 and Alison 2), two farms with old houses, one herd of milking cows and all that goes with it. Oh, and they’ve started a maple operation, have a milking barn to build and are thinking about aquaculture. Exhausting, but for this family, it is just what they always wanted.
Joyce gets a bit choked up when she says, “Owning the land is so important. We didn’t want our kids to have to go through what we did.” Because the Michel family has stuck it out and stuck together, her wish is coming true.
Innovative Tool Keeps Farmland Affordable
Agricultural Stewardship Association is one of only two land trusts in New York State with a primary focus on conserving working farm and forest land. From the beginning, the main tool we have used to prevent incompatible development on agricultural land has been the conservation easement (see page 6 for more on easements).
In 2008 ASA collaborated with Castanea Foundation to develop and implement the first-ever Preemptive Right to Purchase (PRP) agreement in New York State. This new strategy will be an important tool for land trusts in New York, making farmland both available and affordable to farmers.