175 ACRES conserved IN THE TOWN OF BRUNSWICK
Daily commuters know the 175-acre Laughing Earth Farm in Brunswick, just a 15-minute drive from Troy, as the place with all the chickens strolling in the fields near the road. What they may not know is that the farm also raises pastured turkeys and pork as well as vegetables. And that Zack and Annie Metzger, a new generation of farmers, is now on the land.
Zack and Annie started their careers in farming with the Farm Beginnings Program in central Illinois. There they learned how to create budgets and business plans. Sounds more like business school than farming, but as Zack and Annie can attest, "When it came to buying the farm, everyone asked us for a business plan. It was absolutely essential."
The Metzgers leased their first farm in central Illinois where their customers were as far as an hour and a half away. When Zack and Annie were ready to buy their own farm, their dream was to find a place where they could become an integral part of a growing community. That's when Annie (who is originally from Schaghticoke) came to ASA. ASA introduced them to Rich and Linda Bulson, owners of Homestead Farm on State Route 2 in Brunswick.
Rich and Linda had owned Homestead Farm for over 20 years, raising beef cows and running an organic vegetable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. As the Bulsons approached retirement, they worried about what would happen to the land when they retired. The farm's proximity to Albany, Rensselaer and Troy put the land at high risk for residential development and, in fact, developers had been knocking on their door for years.
The Metzgers arrived just at the right time, working on the farm alongside the Bulsons for a year to make sure it was a good fit. Then they leased the land from Rich and Linda, took over the CSA, and also the Bulsons' space at the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market. Annie described the process as "catching lightning in a bottle," but in actual fact, she and Zack had done their homework well and everything was going according to plan.
With the farm in the Metzger's skillful hands, the Bulsons were ready to sell. One problem: there was no way Zack and Annie could afford it.
Thus began a series of transactions to make the Metzger's dream come true. First, the Bulsons asked ASA about conserving their land in return for a state grant. The Bulsons could use that money to retire, and by "stripping away" the right to ever build houses there, the value of the farm would be reduced to a price that Zack and Annie could afford. ASA offered to help the Bulsons give up those development rights by applying for a state farmland protection grant with matching funds from Scenic Hudson Land Trust.
Funding was awarded in October 2014. However, it would be a while before the money actually came from the state. So, in the fall of 2015, Zack and Annie received a bridge loan from Equity Trust to purchase the farm from Rich and Linda. Equity Trust is also providing funds for ASA to hold a Pre-Emptive Purchase Right. This gives ASA the right to purchase the farm if it ever looks like it may be sold to a non-farmer.
Zack and Annie recently put in a state-inspected processing facility so they can sell wholesale chickens and turkeys from the farm. Neighboring Brunswick Barbeque & Brew started buying the Metzger's' processed chickens on Day 1 and CSA members began packing the pub for dinner. Not only do Zack and Annie's chickens eat an organic diet, but the Metzgers are starting to grow their own grain so that the chickens will also be eating only extremely local food.
Other than a new name for the farm, changes have been gradual and neighbors are happy that they can still see the chickens on their commutes to work. And Annie's dream is being realized: "So many people put themselves out there for us and we are truly grateful for that. We feel we are creating a community where people value food and farm experiences."
Funding for this project was provided by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Scenic Hudson Land Trust and Equity Trust.
"We live in a populated area and we are really happy to know that this land will be here, capable of producing food forever." – Annie Metzger