Suffolk County intends to spend $100 million over the next decade to preserve 10,000 acres of farmland through the purchase of development rights, County Executive Steve Bellone announced.
The program, to be funded with county capital money, is designed to protect farms that otherwise might be developed. These farms aid the county’s economy through activities including tourism, and also contribute to the local food supply, county officials said.
"The preservation of farming in Suffolk County is absolutely critical to our region’s future," Bellone said during a news conference Tuesday at Garden of Eve Farm in Riverhead.
The plan aims to satisfy the recommendation in a 1970 comprehensive plan that Suffolk preserve 30,000 acres of farmland to help keep the farming industry afloat, Bellone said.
About 20,000 acres of farmland already have been preserved by the county, local municipalities and through land trusts, officials said.
The approximately 560 farms in Suffolk employ more than 4,600 people, county officials said.
Bellone's proposal would preserve the 10,000 acres needed to reach the 30,000-acre goal.
Bellone committed $25 million to fund the program in 2022-2024 as part of his $1.1-billion proposed capital budget, which he submitted to the Suffolk County Legislature last Friday.
It was the first time the county's capital budget had included a line item for farmland preservation, administration officials said.
The remaining $75 million would be funded in subsequent capital budgets if approved by the county legislature, officials said.
Bellone's initiative comes as farmers increasingly are leaving the industry because of the cost of doing business and rising demand for open space, which has helped drive up prices they can get for their land, officials said.
"Farming is very, very hard and it just gets harder," said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, co-founder of the 20-year-old Garden of Eve Farm, which has applied for preservation under the county program.
"It’s really important to us, after you spend 20 years building something and putting your heart and soul into it, that it will be preserved as a farm," Kaplan-Walbrecht said.