This project included two components: (1) Educating officials from the 35 towns in 2 counties about more effectively integrating the business and land utilization needs of farms into local land use and economic development planning; and (2) Development of a ‘Farm Book’, to reinforce the information shared at a conference and follow-up workshops. In partnership with American Farmland Trust, a conference titled ‘Planning for Farms, Food and Energy in Central New York’ was held in March of 2009. Participants who attended the all-day sessions each received a copy of the ‘Farm Book’ compiled by CACDA. Workshops for elected officials, farmers and interested individuals were held in late fall of 2009 and in spring of 2010. We have distributed more than 1650 books to over 30 counties across New York State, and to several other states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania and California.
We expected 275 people to attend the conference and workshops and learn about tools that would help support local farms and protect agricultural lands. This total was to include numerous elected officials and farmers from Madison and Onondaga Counties. It was believed that 25% of attendees would take steps to encourage municipal action that supported farms, and that at least 6 towns or counties would apply for NYS funding to integrate farms into local planning initiatives. We wanted 35% of book recipients to increase their commitment for saving farmland and hoped that there would be 30% fewer negative incidents between farmers and residents. 1950 books were to be printed and distributed; a minimum of 15 were to go to local real estate agents.
Agriculture is a major industry in New York State as well as in Central New York. Money from farm product sales are re-circulated in area economies as farmers purchase goods and services from other businesses, while growing interest in buying locally produced food at farmer’s markets or directly from farms further magnifies agriculture’s contributions to the regional economy. CACDA has identified protection of existing farms and rural character as a key community priority, and has sponsored several educational presentations that focused on keeping farmland in active production. However, it became apparent that more awareness and education for both the public and for key decision-makers was needed to help everyone understand the critical need to preserve our farming industry.
The proposed project included two components. The first component involves a local officials’ training initiative. A regional “Planning a Future for Farms in Central New York” conference was held in spring of 2009. The American Farmland Trust hosted this day-long training that educated participants about planning tools that can be used to support agriculture including: comprehensive plans, zoning, subdivision laws, infrastructure planning, Agricultural Districts, Right-to-Farm laws and Purchase of Development Rights programs. The event was to build local government officials’ understanding of the economic and environmental importance of agriculture in the region, and give them a better understanding of the tools available to integrate farms into local land use and economic development planning. A series of workshops regarding tools introduced at the regional conference would follow. This initiative would fill a need found in many rural communities where land use planning decisions are frequently made by volunteer boards with limited access to professional expertise in planning and/or agriculture. It would target those decision-makers who can make the greatest positive impact and provide them with the tools necessary to make more informed decisions. The information provided could also help position communities to take advantage of New York State funding programs that enable local governments to develop agricultural and farmland protection plans.
The second project component is development of a ‘Farm Book’ that will reinforce conference information and also help residents learn about what is needed to keep local farming businesses alive and healthy. This publication will serve to increase individual and community understanding of the importance of farming, both as a way of life and as a valued occupation. At a minimum, the Farm Book would be distributed to attendees of the previously described conference and workshops, and to many area residents.
Typical approaches to addressing the importance of keeping farms sustainable for future community economic viability have been centered around offering information at agricultural events, such as county and state fairs or county extension-sponsored activities. The ‘Farm Book’ is distinctive because it would reach many area individuals, including those who would not otherwise be exposed to this type of material. Surveys, response cards and individual responses would be the primary method of measuring results to determine project effectiveness.
This project has impacted many agricultural as well as non-agricultural audiences. Because of the conference and various workshops, and the fact that the books have been so widely distributed throughout different areas and events, individuals that might not otherwise have been exposed to the information have been able to access and learn from it. A majority of these people live and work in relatively rural areas that are comprised largely of agricultural activities, but some also live in urban surroundings.
Traditional dairy farms, equine establishments, niche crops, specialized animal herds, value added products, and agri-tourism businesses are all important segments of the successful farming community throughout our area. It is important to preserve valuable farmland for all of these pursuits, especially since agriculture provides so much of the economic stability for our region. By helping to educate individuals from many walks of life to better understand why farmland, and particularly local farms, should be supported and preserved, we think the public and key decision makers will be able to work together more closely to determine how best to achieve better and more sustainable future economic conditions for farmers and residents.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
125 Farm Books were given to guests at a ‘Farm & Fork’ event in 2009 that highlighted the importance of area farms and locally produced foods, and was hosted by Olympic gold medal equestrian Beezie Madden and her husband John. Farm & Fork II was held August 26, 2010 at the Madden’s beautiful equine establishment and approximately 125 copies were again handed out to attendees. In addition, 7 books were sent to nationally recognized chefs/authors who have been instrumental in promoting the importance of buying local products. These individuals were asked to send an autographed copy of one of their publications for use in a silent auction. Three of the seven responded to this request and their books commanded a great deal of interest during the auction.
35 books were distributed at an annual Garden Club meeting in the greater Cazenovia area. 100 copies were sent to NYS legislators in March for a ‘No Farms, No Food’ rally in Albany, 15 were distributed at the Agstravaganza in Ithaca, 35 municipal leaders received the book at a round table event in March, and more than 75 were available at local maple weekends last spring. American Farmland Trust (AFT) took 100 books to another demonstration day in Albany this summer and also handed out 10 copies to a local planning commission. 60 copies were made available at AFT’s workshop for Ag & Farm Protection in Batavia in June. We have continued to stock several local venues including public, college and school libraries, Amish and local product stores, Chambers of Commerce, municipal offices, real estate offices and farms.
One of the local foundations that provided a substantial amount of funding for this project was interested in promoting the collaborative nature of the initiative between CACDA and AFT. A photo shoot at an area dairy farm produced an ad that was published in the CNY Business Exchange magazine in June of 2009. The Farm Book is clearly visible and the ad helped gain more exposure for the project.
- Project OutcomesProject outcomes:
1950 books were printed for distribution. Initially we planned to mail the majority of the publications but, upon further exploration, decided to work with several local venues instead to make the books more available and accessible to the general public. That way, those who were truly interested in the topic, and therefore more likely to actually read and absorb the material, could easily pick up a copy for themselves and perhaps one to share with a friend or neighbor. This approach has allowed us to build stronger relationships with residents, farmers and others who support local agricultural activities.
175 people from 20 counties in New York (and 1 from Pennsylvania) attended the conference and received the publication. The majority of conference attendees were from town boards, zoning boards or planning boards. Attendance at workshops was more than satisfactory and involved elected officials, farmers and other interested individuals. Based on the feedback from the conference (79) and survey cards returned (4), 23 respondents said they would take a stronger stance for farmland protection by sharing what they learned with their respective land trusts, landowners, farmers, farm protection boards or town boards. 6 will use the info to revamp or review their existing comprehensive plans and 10 will use it for zoning changes. This translates into approximately 22% of attendees taking steps to encourage municipal action, which is close to our goal of 25%.
Many people who received the book through the conference and other venues commented that they would definitely work harder to help save area farmland. Along with those individuals willing to encourage municipal action, we believe the numbers approach or even surpass the 35% we anticipated.
It is difficult at this point to determine exactly how many fewer negative incidents there are between farmers and neighbors, but it appears that they are decreasing based on anecdotal evidence from farmers, real estate agents and local officials. Real estate agents are currently required to have a disclaimer in their contracts with new rural homebuyers, and they are also giving copies of the Farm Book to those individuals. We believe that this will mean an ever decreasing number of farm/residential conflicts in the future. As people learn more about how critical agriculture is to the local economy, they tend to be more understanding, and forgiving, of the potential issues. 15 copies of the Farm Book were initially given to real estate companies to share with potential purchasers of properties adjacent to existing farms. We were recently asked for, and gave, 15 more copies to agents. All local elected officials received books and, due to a press release that was widely distributed, we had requests and sent copies to people in 9 additional New York counties.
Three towns have applied for and received NYS funding to develop Municipal Ag & Farm Protection plans. Other towns are currently considering the program, so it is possible we will still reach the goal of 6 applications.
To date, more than 1650 Farm Books have been distributed to people in over 30 counties across New York State, and more were sent to Virginia, Pennsylvania and 4 separate locations in California. The balance of the books will be used to maintain copies in local venues and supply AFT requests for additional publications until they are all distributed.Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.