WESTMINSTER -- Paul Harlow has guaranteed his farmland will be protected for generations to come.

The Vermont Land Trust has purchased the development rights to the land through a conservation easement and Harlow said he will use the $360,000 to invest in his farm and save for retirement, while at the same time knowing the property will be preserved for the next wave of farmers. Harlow told the Reformer he has known about the benefits of conservation since he took over the farm in the 1970s and had been interested in going through the process for a while.

"I want to keep the land in agriculture," he said, adding that it has amazing soil. "It's great for our town and for long-term stability.

Farm hands work hard in the fields at Harlow Farm in Westminster despite the 90 degree heat.(Kayla Rice)
Farm hands work hard in the fields at Harlow Farm in Westminster despite the 90 degree heat. (Kayla Rice)
I've always thought it would be a good idea (to get a conservation easement)."

Funding for the conservation easement purchase came from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), with matching funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Vermont Land Trust bills itself as a statewide, member-supported, non-profit land conservation organization that has permanently protected more than 800 working farms, hundreds of thousands of acres of productive forestland and several parcels of community lands since 1977.

Elise Annes, the vice president for community relations at the Trust, said a conservation easement is an agreement that ensures the Trust will permanently monitor and steward a piece of land, even though its owner still maintains and pays the taxes on it. She said easements are a way to ensure land stays affordable and accessible for farmers in the future.

Annes said most types of development will now be prohibited on the land, but Harlow is allowed to build farm labor housing or another greenhouse.

Joan Weir, the Vermont Land Trust's Southeast regional director, is based out of the Trust's Brattleboro office and worked closely with Harlow on the project, which she said took about a year to complete. She said Harlow approached her with the idea of conserving his farmland.

Harlow, 63, told the Reformer his 32-year-old son, Evan, is interested in taking over the farm someday and said it is a good feeling to have the conservation easement in place. He said the farm has been in his family since his grandfather, also named Paul Harlow, bought it in 1917.

According to the Vermont Land Trust, Harlow Farm is a 125-acre property on Route 5 and sells flowers, organic produce, bedding plants, maple syrup and preserves. Paul Harlow said he also grows berries and raises animals. A statement from the Vermont Land Trust said the farm seasonally employs 50 people, 10 full-time employees, and includes numerous growers and producers at its farmstand.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.

Harlow Farm in Westminster.(Kayla Rice)
Harlow Farm in Westminster. (Kayla Rice)