NESTLED IN THE WESTERN FOOTHILLS OF THE BERKSHIRE MOUNTAINS, the Copake Agricultural Center is NEFA’s pioneer multi-farmer agricultural project. Formed in 2014, it is our showplace of diversified, sustainable agriculture, and the proof of concept that NEFA is good for farmers, reinvigorates the soil, and re-energizes the community.
Copake Agricultural Center initially purchased two farms, the Belt Farm and the Town Center Farm (known as the Flats, locally), leasing to three farm families who relocated their farm operations from Massachusetts, Maine, and Westchester County, respectively.
By the end of its first year, the LLC had purchased 192 acres and three farmhouses, moved 180 acres into conservation easements, and shifted 122 acres out of “conventional” agriculture into organic farming practices.
In December of 2017, NEFA sold the Belt Farm after placing it into conservation, converting the land to certified organic, and renovating its buildings. The new owner is a like-minded farm-investor who has several young farmers working the land.
The project has proven our model: create a secure place for farms to establish themselves, and watch them take off. Each of our inaugural farms has grown and evolved to best meet their specific business needs — sometimes in ways we could not have even imagined.
There have been shifts in lessees (see Our Farmers, below), but about 30 full-time jobs are provided at the farms, with economic activity rippling throughout town. We are often told, “Your farmers are the most popular people in Copake.”
Farmers at NEFA’s first agricultural center celebrated five years on the land in March 2019. Our active farms as of 2019:
Tiny Hearts Farm
Jenny Elliott and Luke Franco, the flower specialists of Tiny Hearts Farm, have not just 15 acres under lease, including a bigger-than-ever new greenhouse, but just opened a showroom and studio in nearby Hillsdale. Hundreds of people attended their May 5 grand opening.
The new space, created for them by Matthew White of Hillsdale General Store and HGS Home Chef, will support their wedding-flower business in particular. It will also be the location for their floral classes and other special events, and serve as a weekly pickup location for their fast-growing flower CSA.
Jonathan Sadlowe of Borough Mushrooms is the newest lessee at Copake, with plans to produce varieties that will include shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms there.
“By May we were in the final buildout construction phase at Borough Mushrooms,” Jonathan reports. “We are ramping up the production side of the business, and looking forward to producing mushrooms later this summer. It’s been a great six months since moving the operation to Copake, and we hope we can have a positive impact in the community and region.”
Deep Roots Farm
Deep Roots Farm NY’s mission is to provide their local community with fresh, organic produce, as well as pickles fermented without preservatives or additives. Scott and Stormie O’Rourke began farming in North Salem, NY, but soon discovered they needed more land to scale up and meet the growing demand, which they found at Copake.
“We are extremely grateful for such a wonderful opportunity to farm in such a gorgeous area, on such well-maintained farmland. Already having a fenced in property with a well on certified organic land allows us to focus on other tasks that directly add value to our business, saving us a lot of upfront time and costs.”
-Scott and Stormie O’Rourke
Tavius Sims has led an initiative to farm hemp at the ag center for medicinal CBD oil. Camphill has hired Kyle Woehrle to be the lead grower for 2019. Camphill may raise some food crops as well.
John Langdon, our neighbor and predecessor at the farm, is leasing 7 acres to also raise a crop of hemp for CBD oil.
The Belt Farm, on the hillside
One of NEFA’s investors in both the Copake and Esopus centers, Farmland Preservation LLC, has purchased the 70-acre hilltop Belt Farm at Copake from NEFA.
“We’re engaged in setting up a vision and plan for this special property,” says Dominik Eckenstein, founder of Farmland Preservation. “Two young farmers have joined us for small-scale production and general help on the land.”
Babacar Kebe (who worked last year on the Belt Farm land) and Meagan Callahan of Catkin Farm (also part of the MX Morningstar crew) are settling in happily, and recruiting of more farmers with NEFA’s help is under way.
OUR INVESTMENT STRUCTURE
We bring together social, financial, and environmental capital to develop a community-focused approach to owning and leasing farm assets. Farmland Renewal, LLC’s Copake Agricultural Center (the Center) is held by a coalition of financial investors, including impact investors, foundations, farmers, and other stakeholders. The Center purchases farmland, infrastructure, and farmer housing, and leases those properties to experienced farmers on a long-term basis. The Center partners with non-profit organizations, such as local land trusts, to place conservation easements on the properties and ensure they remain in agriculture permanently.
THE PROJECT TEAM
- Bob Bernstein—Founder and Managing Director of Northeast Farm Access, LLC, experienced facilitator and convener dedicated to community-based development and conserving working farms.
- Amanda Fuller—Chief Financial Officer, with a commercial real-estate finance background, brings traditional long-term leasing tools and strategy to new farmland-investment concepts.
- Jacob Meyer—Legal Counsel for Northeast Farm Access, LLC.
- Karen Fitzgerald—Landscape Architect with 25 years of experience in farm design and planning.
- Jon Jaffe—Vice President of Farm Credit East, farm financial advisor.
(Photo credit: Robert Rodriguez Jr. for image of marigold in field.)