For the first time in Ballston Town History, a Farmland Protection Plan is being drafted. Agricultural districts have been designated in the past, but a protection plan would make the town eligible for state, federal or county funding if it becomes available and would make state funded purchase of development rights (PDR) an option for farmers, said Joan Pott, chairman of the Farmland Protection Plan committee.
In 2009, the town applied for a grant from the state to hire a consultant to help it navigate the farmland protection plan process. With the state’s current financial crisis, those funds are no longer available but the plan is still a top priority for the town board, said Supervisor Patti Southworth, so that’s why this committee was formed.
It’s very important to this community to formulate a plan because we have put value on agriculture, we’re a right to farm community and we feel this is another step to coincide with that, said Southworth. `We know if we have a plan in place we rank higher on the priority list of funds that become available so it helps the farmers and large landowners by simply having a plan in place.`
The committee held a meeting open to the public on Thursday, Jan. 20, to offer information and gather opinions and insight from farmers. Pott said about 50 residents showed up and she’s received a slew of phone calls and emails with positive reactions to the proposed plan.
`We want to formulate a plan that hopefully can address all the needs or at least the majority of the needs in the town,` said Pott.
The trick to drafting a good plan, said Pott, will be to find a way to balance private property owners’ rights and the town residents’ desire to see Ballston retain its rural and agricultural atmosphere, while at the same time recognizing where municipalities purchase development rights so farmers have cash to fund their farming efforts.
`I am confident that if we work together, we can come up with a plan that will preserve our heritage and our history and protect our future,` said Pott.
Pott said some of the main concerns farmers communicated were whether or not there were other options besides state funded PDRs; if the plan could be drafted so as not to interfere with someone’s private property rights; if it could offer protection through zoning and still encourage farming; intrusion of motorized vehicles like snowmobiles and ATVs tearing up cropland; problems of vandalism; and trespassing.
`There was a lot of concern about protecting against motorized vehicles where people using them are intent on being oblivious to the fact that they’re damaging crops. What options does a landowner have? We don’t have a police force, we’re dependent on the county sheriff and they can’t be everywhere at once,` said Pott. `Someone put up ‘no trespassing’ signs and they were torn down; it’s not cheap to post a piece of property. What do we do when someone’s determined to hunt your land without permission, perhaps cut firewood on your land without permission. Lawsuit is a risk because there’s a risk of someone being injured on your property; even if you haven’t given them permission, we live in a society where people literally sue for everything.`
One option farmers suggested was finding ways to better market and promote their products for sale. Pott said they don’t necessarily want anything from the government, they just want freedom from government burden and intrusion and be able to continue doing what they do.
`There were ideas on promotion encouraging people to shop local and support local products. How to maintain that balance between the tax base that business development offers while protecting from the intrusion on farm space,` said Pott.
Southworth said an idea the town board has for helping farmers with marketing is to create a farm brochure where people could see what farms have to offer with addresses and hours of operation listed.
Pott said while development might be good in some respects, there comes a time when the community will have realize `if we build on it, we can never go back; if we develop it we can never go back to farm.`
The committee presented an outline of how the drafting process will go. First the committee will develop a mission statement. Then, it will define a brief history of agiculture in Ballston and Saratoga County, followed by defining and identifying the agricultural land that still exists. The committee will define the types of agriculture currently ongoing and taking place now, then look at current regional planning, then identify current inventory and map it. The committee will follow that up with identifying lands that could be reclaimed for agriculture, identify soil types, identify town development trends and pressures, continually seek community input, reach out to landowners to see who wants to be included in preservation, analyze data and identify fiscal and zoning impacts and finally prepare a draft of the Farmland Protection Plan.
The committee is comprised of Jeremy Knight, town board member and part of Knight Orchards; Frieda Garrison who owns a horse farm with her husband; Laura Conrad, a realtor; Garth Ellm of Ellms Trees; Chuck Curtis, owner of Willow Marsh Farm and Andy Van Vorst, co-owner of Brookbound Farm.
Pott is the only hobby farmer but she said she knows a little something about what it takes.
`I have 130 acres of land, raised 30 head of sheep, 20 rabbits, 45 chickens, three donkeys, 15 horses, a bunch of ducks. My husband’s an attorney and I’m his paralegal. We homeschooled and had all those critters for the biology and science part of that experience,` said Pott, who said her farm has been called Brookdale Farm since 1835.
The committee is aiming to have a draft of the plan complete by the end of the year. It will hold frequent meetings open to the public throughout that process, with the next being Thursday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m., although Pott warned it would be a tight squeeze since it’s being held in the conference room at Town Hall.