Deals Will Conserve Allard, Bean Farms

September 17, 2010
Northampton, Massachusetts

A critical milestone has been reached in the year-long effort to conserve two farms along the Mill River in the Florence section of Northampton, Mass., The Trust for Public Land, the City of Northampton, and Grow Food Northampton announced today.

An agreement signed on Wednesday gives Grow Food Northampton (GFN), a local non-profit, the opportunity to purchase up to 117 acres of the Allard and Bean Farm properties. To meet the requirements of funding committed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the Northampton Community Preservation Committee, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, is required to sell 117 acres of this land to a farmer or farming organization after it has been permanently protected as farmland.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a 'triple crown jewel' for the City of Northampton, with outstanding agricultural, recreational, and environmental, benefits, and to help young farmers produce food for our citizens through Grow Food Northampton's innovative approach to land tenure," said Clem Clay, TPL's Connecticut River program director. "Grow Food Northampton intends to create a community farm on the land that will offer long-term leases to sustainable CSA farmers, farm-based educational programs, and opportunities for community access and enjoyment."

The agreement announced today will allow GFN to purchase one or more of the farm parcels that TPL expects to purchase this fall by January 31, 2011. The group has already raised more than $200,000 in pledges, grants, and donations, and needs to raise $670,500 by January 31, 2011, in order to purchase all 117 protected acres from TPL at their agricultural value of $585,000 and to cover associated legal and other acquisition costs. A public campaign launch will take place on Saturday October 2 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the historic Ross Homestead, 123 Meadow Street in Florence.

"This is a truly community-inspired vision and project. People love how tangible it is buying prime farmland for the common good," said Lilly Lombard of Grow Food Northampton. "Generous visionaries before us gave us a theater, a library, and several parks. This farm may well be our generation's legacy."

The future uses of the farms had been the subject of considerable local debate. The Bean Farm Task Force was created following a City-brokered agreement to purchase that 43-acre property from the Bean Family in October of 2009. It was expanded and renamed the Bean-Allard Farm Task Force after TPL negotiated an agreement with the Goulet family in January, making the larger Allard Farm also available for conservation.

Public debate centered on balancing continued local farming with expanded recreational fields. The Task Force working with TPL was able to reach a widely supported compromise that dedicates 24 acres to the creation of new ball fields under the auspices of the Northampton Recreation Department; transfers approximately 42 acres of riparian forest along the Mill River to the Conservation Commission; and permanently protects the remaining 117 acres for sale to future farmers.

"The agricultural soils are of the highest quality and citizens identified local farming as critical to any conservation of the properties," said Wayne Feiden, Northampton's Director of Planning and Development. "Equally important to the community is development of new and much-needed athletic fields as the farms are also situated at the center of Northampton. We have work to do but this agreement between TPL and GFN is a considerable step forward."

Grow Food Northampton was created out of an advocacy effort designed to maximize the amount of farmland protected and dedicated to sustainable local food production, both through the Bean-Allard project and throughout Northampton. As the conservation effort took shape, GFN sought the opportunity to become the entity that would purchase the protected Bean-Allard farmland, and initiated private fundraising for the purchase.

Any parcels not purchased by Grow Food Northampton will be sold at agricultural value to another farmer. The city's proposed Florence Fields-the athletic fields complex, including five multi-sport fields and two baseball diamonds-would be adjacent to protected farmland on the north side of Meadow Street.

Funding for the nearly $2.5 million purchases and restriction will come from state Agricultural Preservation Restriction funding, Northampton Community Preservation Funds, and Grow Food Northampton's private funding campaign. A state grant to support the recreational purchase and to begin detailed design of the ball field complex is pending with the Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services and will be announced in October.

The lands have roots in history too. Sojourner Truth, then a member of the local Northampton Association of Education and Industry, farmed the land in the 19th century. Interpretive signs are also planned.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped to protect more than 2.8 million acres nationwide, including nearly 13,000 acres in Massachusetts. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve its land for people mission.

Grow Food Northampton's mission is to promote food security by advancing sustainable agriculture in the Northampton, Massachusetts area. GFN's public launch barn party takes place on Saturday October 2 from 4-8pm at the historic Ross Homestead, 123 Meadow St. in Florence. All are welcome. Learn more about the Northampton Community Farm: growfoodnorthampton.com

The City of Northampton's open space objectives, identified in its Open Space, Recreation and MultiUse Trail Plan, include permanently preserving prime farmland and a viable farming economy, preserving a greenway along the Mill River from Leeds to Downtown Northampton, meeting the recreation needs of the community, and preserving sensitive land from inappropriate development that will damage the environment and Northampton's tax base. Visit www.NorthamptonMA.gov/opd/