Massachusetts’ new Landscape Partnership Program has awarded a grant of $1,079,300 to help conserve 802 acres in Leyden, including Bree-Z-Knoll farm, the Town’s last working dairy farm.
The grant will fund the Leyden Working Farms and Forests Conservation Partnership, which is being administered jointly by Franklin Land Trust and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in collaboration with the Town of Leyden, the USDA Farm & Ranch Land Protection Program, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and eleven local landowners--many of whom are donating all or part of the value of conservation restrictions on their land. Taking these landowner donations into account, the total amount raised for the project so far is more than $2,000,000.
Leyden, a hilltown on the Vermont border, is home to just over 700 people. Increasing economic pressures on small farming operations have wrought dramatic changes to many rural communities, and Leyden is no exception: when Bree-Z-Knoll Farm got its start, dairy farming was one of the most important industries in Leyden, with sixteen working dairy farms in town. Today, Bree-Z-Knoll, which produces 370,000 gallons of milk each year and sells them as a member of the Our Family Farms Cooperative, is the last commercial dairy in Leyden.
Selectman William Glabach, whose family owned Bree-Z-Knoll Farm in the 1930s, has seen many of the changes firsthand. “In the fifties and sixties, you could raise a family and live a good life on a few dozen cows,” he says. “Now, you have to keep expanding just to keep your head above water. The Select Board has talked about protecting land in town for some time. We really want to maintain our agricultural character and keep some open space for farms and for hunting.”
Recognizing the important role that agriculture plays in the economic, historic and cultural life of their town, Leyden is taking steps to steward this rural character forward into a new century. Franklin Land Trust Executive Director Rich Hubbard applauds their foresight, adding that conservation has both direct and indirect benefits to our region. “The obvious benefit of land conservation is that it protects the working lands and natural resources that are so critical to our well-being. But there are less visible benefits of conservation that are equally important, like helping to keep our local economy healthy and diverse.”
Leigh Youngblood, Executive Director of Mount Grace, agrees, noting that the scenic open pastures where the Bree-Z-Knoll cows graze offer vistas that not only preserve the town’s rural character, but help draw new businesses with similar values and goals. For example, the Spirit Fire Meditative Retreat Center and Angel’s Rest Retreat are both participating in the project; these retreat centers have helped bring new jobs to the community and repeat visitors to the area.
“The success of the Leyden partnership is the result of neighbors and neighboring land trusts responding to an opportunity to work together to protect an iconic local farm and the surrounding landscape they love,” adds Youngblood. The Massachusetts Landscape Partnership Program makes grants to help fund projects that protect a minimum of 500 contiguous acres of land in Massachusetts. The state program, now in its second year, pays for 50% of the project costs and requires the project partners to come up with an equal sum. In order to help meet the match, and ensure conservation of the land, neighboring landowners have agreed to collectively offer easements on their properties, at 50% of the appraised value.
Mount Grace and Franklin Land Trust are providing the technical expertise to help the landowners realize their goal of protecting the land. By the project’s end, not only will an important local farm be protected, but two and one half miles of frontage on the scenic roads of Franklin County will be conserved, and hundreds of acres that lie within the watershed of Greenfield’s drinking water supply will be protected from future development.
“This partnership is just the beginning,” Hubbard adds, “We hope that other communities will take advantage of this program and that these partnerships on behalf of conservation in our region continue to thrive. “
"I am proud to stand with Governor Patrick, Lt. Governor Murray and Secretary Sullivan in announcing these grants," Senator Stan Rosenberg says in summing up the project. "These grants are further indications that our state government recognizes the enormous value - economic and environmental - of our forested land. My congratulations to all the people in Leyden, and all those involved with the Franklin Land Trust, the DAR and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust for securing this substantial award."