By all accounts, 2016 was a very challenging year. In reflecting on the whole, however, we see that in spite of considerable challenges, we made great strides forward.
Incremental change is in part the nature of the NEFA’s work. We move individual pieces forward, and over time the sum of those pieces creates better access to land, positively impacting communities at a social, environmental and economic level while producing tons of clean organic food.
Thank you for helping us.
Project by project, a quick wrap-up of 2016:
Esopus Agricultural Center
After closing on the 214-acre Old Chambers Farm on the Esopus Creek in Ulster/Kingston this summer, a tremendous amount of work has been completed in establishing four lease areas and adapting the property’s previously abandoned farmhouse into an office, kitchen and meeting space for the Center’s farmers, EAC members and the community. With all four leaseholders in place, we are especially excited about the community that is building around this ag center. There is more work ahead–including raising immediate funds to run electricity to new heated hoop houses.
Chester Agricultural Center
Chester’s farmers continue their excellent work on the land, while also progressing on critical agroecology efforts and related research as the site is transitioned to organic. In 2016, field trials were conducted with several non-herbicidal treatments on miles of drainage ditches between the fields. All farms employed cover crops, with one sowing 90-plus acres in sorghum-Sudan grass to boost organic matter in the underlying soil. The Ralph E. Ogden Foundation, Orange County Land Trust and volunteer managing member Will Brown are leading the work of this dynamic and important agricultural center.
Copake Agricultural Center
As our most established center, Copake was the most impacted by the season’s drought in rainfall and financial capital. But the farmers, members and NEFA persisted, accomplishing some critical infrastructure enhancements that will benefit next year’s operations, including further improvements to the common area’s workshop, office, kitchen, bathroom and wash-n-pack. For the first time in decades, cows joined by sheep and chickens found their way back to the hillside fields and pastures, boosting fertility and a sense of life on the farm. A new investor has joined, allowing the retirement of 2014’s seller financing from Alice Belt. Through NEFA, Farmland Renewal and the new investor are actively discussing mutually beneficial ways to support the former Belt Farm transition and Farm Stay programming in 2017. Focus on the next phase of financial restructuring with RSF Social Finance will now resume. These new developments strengthen Copake’s financial position and set the project up for more positive momentum in the first quarter and beyond.
On the Horizon: Monadnock Agricultural Center in New Hampshire
A lead investor plus longtime allies in the local farm and conservation movements’ group of committed investors, farmers and collaborators—all intrigued by the progress of our Hudson Valley ag-center model—are moving toward purchase of the historic Maple Homestead Farm in 2017. This exciting project is the first to extend out of New York State and is nearly in NEFA founder Bob Bernstein’s backyard, an area he knows intimately and loves deeply. This 135-acre property, augmented with hundreds of acres of nearby leased fields, is central to the production and sale of more than 25,000 bales of premium hay per year and a thriving maple-sugar operation. Herbs, vegetables and an artists’ Farm Stay would join the mix, along with a proposed home base for the Northeast Agroecology Program.
Northeast Agroecology Program
Three donors made possible the first steps in our Agroecology Program, funding expert baseline site assessments by scientists from Hudsonia Ltd. at each property. Species of conservation concern were identified (like bald eagles and a stand of mature river birch at Esopus); existing habitats were analyzed (like the sensitive irrigation ditch system at Chester, and the extensive Esopus Creek frontage in Kingston). The first orchard and native-plant-buffer nursery crops are in the ground at Copake, as we plan at all our centers to enhance pollinator and other beneficial insect interactions, maximizing environmental health and also crop yields. Learn more:
Our Gratitude List
As the year winds down, we also reflect on how grateful we are to our agricultural centers’ investors, our farmers, and our extended circle of friends, colleagues and affiliates, including Farm Credit East, Hawthorne Valley Association, Hudsonia Ltd. and Scenic Hudson Land Trust, Columbia Land Conservancy, Orange County Land Trust and Monadnock Land Trust.