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Neighbors Team Up to Protect Leyden’s Last Dairy Farm

Neighbors in this small town on the Vermont border joined together two years ago to protect more than 700 acres of land surrounding Bree-Z-Knoll Farm, a family-run dairy which started in 1972 with two milking-cows.  This summer, farm owners Warren, Randy, and Angie Facey completed those efforts by placing an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) on 221 acres of pasture and woods that make up the farm.

Reached by cell phone on his cultivator, Warren Facey described the family as “very excited about being able to protect this land,” adding “There were sixteen dairy farms here when we started, and we’re the last one.  This is an opportunity to invest in the farm and help make sure that Bree-Z-Knoll will be a farm forever.  It won’t just be growing houses, like a lot of the land out here.”  This year, the farm will produce approximately 400,000 gallons of milk from 170 milking cows.  The family plans to acquire more protected farmland soon with the proceeds from the APR, reducing the current farm expense of leasing cropland.

Protecting Bree-Z-Knoll Farm is the final step in a two-year effort to secure the rural character of Leyden—a town of 700 on the Vermont border—while supporting the local economy.  This effort, the Leyden Working Farms and Forests Conservation Partnership, has now protected more than 700 acres of land, including Bree-Z-Knoll Farm, Sweet Morning Farm, and land owned by Angels' Rest Retreat Center and Spirit Fire Retreat Center.   “From the first neighborhood meeting, it was clear that the people who showed up really cared about their town and each other,” said Sarah Wells, Land Conservation Specialist at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust.  “This was a unique experience because we were part of a larger story that involved supporting people’s livelihoods. From the farm, to the firewood that the Hall brothers gather in the woods, to the maple taps on Paul and Karen O’Neill’s land, to the continued ability of Spirit Fire and Angel’s Rest to draw visitors to Leyden, this project made sense ecologically and economically.”

The neighbors joined together to protect their lands in order to take advantage of a new funding opportunity in Massachusetts.  In 2012, Bree-Z-Knoll’s neighbors met at Angel’s Rest Retreat Center, just across the dirt road from the farm. With traditional sources of farmland protection money unavailable to Bree-Z-Knoll due to the farm’s sloping hillsides and soil types, the Faceys pinned their hopes on the State’s new Landscape Partnership Grant Program which funds certain projects conserving 500 or more acres.  Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Maeve Vallely Bartlett described the program as “the Patrick Administration’s flagship program for the permanent conservation of important natural resources on a landscape scale.  Scientific research shows that conserving large landscapes is a key tool in helping ecosystems adapt to climate change and protecting the vitality of our natural resources. The Leyden project is an exceptional example of team work, with the state and community partners united to conserve a farm central to the community and unique ecosystem that surrounds it.”

Warren asked the neighbors to join him by protecting their lands as well to meet that 500 acre threshold. That fall, Warren and ten neighbors moved forward with help from Mount Grace, Franklin Land Trust, and The New England Forestry foundation.  Paul and Karen O’Neil, who protected 147 acres of their land, say that the state grant made a big difference: “This is something we would have done even if no one else had,” explains Paul.  “But it’s great to be able to help Warren and the Farm and to be a part of protecting so much land.  We’re not well enough off that we can afford to just donate all the land, so the Landscape Partnership Program allows people in the middle of the pack economically to participate in protecting land.”

The protected lands include diverse landscapes created by steep hills and streams.  A recent study by The Nature Conservancy has indicated the area is likely to be highly resilient in the face of climate change.  “When you actually get out on these lands, you can really see why they’re considered so highly resilient,” said Peter Howell, Executive Vice President of the Open Space Institute. “There’s a great variety of landforms surrounded by a large, connected forest. Lands like these will provide the natural refuges wildlife will need well into the future, even as the climate changes.”

“This is a significant accomplishment for the town of Leyden and surrounding region,” added Whitney Beals, New England Forestry Foundation's Director of Land Protection.   “It benefits people and wildlife with pure water, clean air, recreational opportunities, open space values, local wood products, and local agricultural resources.”  With the neighboring landowners collectively donating greater than $700,000 of value, the project was awarded a $1,157,125 grant from the Landscape Partnership Program to permanently conserve the woods, streams, fields, and rolling hills of this scenic area.  Rick Chandler, Regional Planner for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said the Partnership Program saw “a unique opportunity in Leyden to blend the differing funding and stewardship capabilities of state agencies and private organizations with the goals and needs of the land owners.  We helped a landmark local farm make a significant investment in its future role in active agriculture and prepare for the next generation of the family to continue farming.”

“Because of this partnership, family legacies, rural character, and vital habitats are now preserved,” said Richard Hubbard, Executive Director of the Franklin Land Trust. “Having worked with conservation-minded farmers and landowners in Leyden for over two decades, we are very pleased to help ensure hiking and bird watching will continue to be possible for the foreseeable future along wooded trails like those on the Harris property. And to help neighbors like the Reid family and Sweet Morning Farm maintain the quiet rural character of the center of Leyden. Together the protected land will provide opportunities for farming, hiking, hunting, snow-mobile trail use and access to the Leyden State Forest for generations to come.”

The Leyden Working Farms and Forests Conservation Partnership was administered jointly by Franklin Land Trust and Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in collaboration with the Town of Leyden, the New England Forestry Foundation, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, eleven local landowners, and investors in Mount Grace’s Local Landscape Collateral Fund.  The Conservation Fund provided bridge financing support, and the Open Space Institute awarded a grant from its Resilient Landscapes Initiative.  The Fields Pond Foundation, and The 1772 Foundation also provided generous financial support.

By protecting Leyden’s last remaining dairy farm and the two retreat centers, the project will help safeguard 28 jobs in town.  The completed project also conserves a great variety of habitat, including rich forests, wetland systems, small ponds, vernal pools, and streams, as well as protecting two and one half miles of frontage on the scenic roads of Franklin County and hundreds of acres that lie within the watershed of Greenfield’s drinking water supply.