Editorial: Land deal a model to preserve LI farms

"Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island" "Farming the Future: Farm Life on Long Island" is a documentary screening March 13 as part of a film series on sustainable living at The Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island in Garden City. Photo Credit: Wendy Chamberlin

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Farming is part of Long Island's DNA. We cherish the food it produces, welcome the tourists it draws and value the land itself -- so much so that for several decades we have sought to preserve as much of it as possible. That task has become more difficult lately.

Developers and wealthy homeowners, mostly on the East End, have come to realize that when Suffolk County or other organizations purchase development rights on farmland to block construction, the land becomes cheaper to buy. And they've been snatching it up for horse farms or expansive lawns that increase the size and value of their estates.

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So the farmland is indeed preserved -- but not for farming.

The good news is that preservationists have devised a clever new strategy to ensure that farms continue to produce fruits and vegetables, and last week completed their first deal. Southampton Town and the Peconic Land Trust combined to preserve a 33-acre farm in Water Mill. The trust bought the property for $12 million, and the town spent $11 million from its Community Preservation Fund to buy extra development rights that make the land unattractive in the hyper-heated Hamptons real estate market. Among them: 80 percent of the land must be farmed for food production; if it is fallow for two years, the town can lease it to another farmer to cultivate for food; and no horses are allowed.

A further benefit: The land is now more affordable for the next generation of farmers. Protected South Fork farmland has been sold to non-farmers for as much as $200,000 per acre; the added restrictions reduced the cost of the Water Mill land to about $26,000 per acre. The trust hopes to sell by year's end to someone willing to get a little dirt under their fingernails.

The partnership between Southampton Town and the Peconic Land Trust, the first of its kind in the state, offers an important tool to all conservationists to help keep our crops and Long Island growing.

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