Suffolk County is committing $100 million over the next 10 years to preserve 10,000 acres of developable farmland, in order to reach the goal of preserving 30,000 acres set over 50 years ago.
The new “100 for 10 Farmland Preservation Initiative” will put an initial commitment of $25 million into the county’s capital plan over the next three years exclusively for preservation efforts, according to the county. In 1970, the Nassau-Suffolk Comprehensive Plan summary recommended the preservation of 30,000 acres of farmland, however, only around 20,000 acres of preserved farmland have been preserved through efforts by the county government, town governments and land trusts so far.
“Here in Suffolk County, we take great pride in our agricultural heritage, a heritage that belongs to all Long Islanders, but that is mainly preserved here on the East End,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “The agricultural industry provides jobs and economic growth, generates tourism dollars, supports our local restaurants and services, provides fresh produce for our residents to enjoy, contributes significantly to the natural beauty of the region and connects us in a tangible way with our history.”
Bellone spoke during a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Garden of Eve Farm in Riverhead. He was joined by county legislators, farmers, members of the land preservation community, and Riverhead Town Board members Frank Beyrodt and Catherine Kent.
Preserving farmland protects property from residential and commercial development, restricting it solely for agricultural use. There are about 560 active farms in Suffolk which employ around 5,000 people, according to the county. Bellone said the industry has generated around $226 million in sales, making it the fourth largest county in New York in terms of agricultural market value. A majority of the effort will go towards land on the East End, Bellone said.
“These are businesses that are operating and sometimes hitting a wall,” Bellone said. “And the county should be, and I think has been with the leaders here, should be an advocate for these individuals who are doing something not only that is good for them and their families, [but] is doing something great for all of us in this region.”
John Halsey, the founder and president of the Peconic Land Trust, called the initiative “a new recognition of the importance of agriculture.”
“I look forward to this ongoing partnership with the agricultural community, our public partners, and our communities, who also care very much about the future of agriculture,” Halsey said.
North Fork County Legislator Al Krupski said that economically, the land preservation doesn’t cost taxpayers after the initial spending, as the land is still privately owned and operated on. “You have the visual benefits for the community, the open space, the food production, of course, for the community, but it still stays on the tax rolls,” he said.
During the press conferences, Chris and Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, the owner’s of Garden of Eve, expressed that although farming is difficult, the job is also rewarding. Eve said the farm was already saved from development once, when her father bought the land in 1977. Preservation efforts are important to them, they said, having met through a Save the Sound meeting. They opened their farm together 20 years ago.
“At some point, you know, you do reach a point where you start looking towards the end of your life and you think, well, what’s gonna happen to this farm?” Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “And so it’s really important to us, after you spent 20 years building something and putting your heart and your soul into it, that it stays a farm.”
“A couple of years ago, right before COVID, we went to the county program and we are hoping to see this farm preserved,” Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “And this announcement definitely gives us hope that this farm will be preserved forever.”
Farmers can learn more about the program and apply by visiting the county’s farmland preservation website.
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