Protecting farmland

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By Bob Audette

WALPOLE, N.H. — The Monadnock Conservancy is in line to receive $1.2 million to help it protect nearly 3,000 acres of farmland in the Monadnock region by 2021.

For one local family, concerned about the loss of agricultural fields where they grow vegetables to sell on their farmstand, the news is a hopeful sign.

"There has been lots of development along our strip of road on Route 12," said Terese Janiszyn, who operates Pete's Farmstand with her husband, John, who took over operation of the stand from his grandfather, Pete, in 2001. Pete Janiszyn worked the land until the day he died at the age of 81 in 1997.

Teresa Janiszyn started working on the farmstand in 2008, and since then stores have popped up — including a Tractor Supply, a Dollar General, a Jiffy Mart and a Subway — on all sides of their farmstand.

"Property values have really gone up and the farmland is increasingly threatened and out of our price range," said Janiszyn. "Ownership is really not an option, at least not in this area."

For several years, the Janiszyns farmed land right next to their farmstand, but they were renting that land.

"John's family had been farming that land on a handshake agreement for 40 years," said Janiszyn. "There were no formal agreements."

And when developers purchased the parcel to build a Dollar General, they lost a prime agricultural resource.

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"We were farming that land in the spring and pulling radishes and green beans ahead of the bulldozer," she said.

A prime piece of farmland they rely on, and which was preserved by the Monadnock Conservancy, is 8 acres on Route 12 along the Cold River, leased to them by Perley Lund of Gilsum.

"Having Perley's land, where we can amend the soil and prepare a multi-year plan is essential to our business," said Janiszyn. "This is some of the best farmland in the country. It has beautiful soil."

The Janiszyns have about 33 acres available for farming, though it's not always in use at the same time; some land needs to "rest" between harvest and planting.

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Stacy Gambrel, the conservation project manager for the Monadnock Conservancy, said the 8 acres the Janiszyns lease from Lund is an example of development rights that can be purchased with the use of federal funds provided through the USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

"Perley worked with us on protecting this land," said Gambrel. "He wanted the land to stay in farming and he was delighted to work with us. With an easement on the land, it can never be developed, subdivided, or turned into residential units. It will continue as farmland."

In addition to the USDA, the Monadnock Conservancy received financial assistance from Conservancy donors, the Moose Plate grant program, the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, 1772 Foundation, and Thomas Haas Fund of the N.H. Charitable Foundation.

The new funds from the USDA will allow the Monadnock Conservancy to pay landowners for their development rights and protect up to 3,000 acres, said Gambrel.

Projects have not been identified yet, she said, and once criteria for eligibility are developed, a request for proposals will be issued, but probably not until February or March.

"This is an excellent opportunity for us to meet our goals in conserving farmland," said Gambrel. "It will allows us to protect so much more land."

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She noted that agriculture in the Monadnock Region is an extremely important, though somewhat scarce, resource. Since 1989, the Conservancy has protected 20,000 acres, of which about 7,000 acres has some level of agricultural use, meaning some portion of the property is in fields.

"As the only project in New Hampshire that was funded through the RCPP, we feel this demonstrates the critical importance of protecting the Monadnock region's rural landscape and agricultural economy," said Gambrel, about Lund's 8-acre field. "Farmland along the Connecticut River is recognized as having some of the best soils in the entire country. This is a precious and dwindling resource that we must protect to the ensure the livelihood of farming and the scenic rural character that makes the Monadnock Region so special."

The $1.2 million allocated to the Monadnock Conservancy will be used to target riverfront farmland, especially land along the Connecticut, Ashuelot and Contoocook rivers, as well as waterways that have been identified as impaired. While the main focus of this project is easement acquisition, the Monadnock Conservancy and its partners will also undertake education and outreach to promote conservation easements and good land stewardship practices to landowners.

The funds are part of $225 million disbursed by the USDA through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. In total, 88 projects will receive funding through the program in this cycle.

"With today's announcement, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing a total of $825 million in 286 projects, bringing together more than 2,000 conservation partners who have committed an estimated $1.4 billion in financial and technical assistance," stated a press release announcing the disbursement. "By 2018, NRCS and its partners, including Indian tribes, nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, private industry, water districts, universities and many others, will have invested at least $2.4 billion through RCPP, which was created by the 2014 Farm Bill."

As with the Perley land easement, the USDA grant is not enough, and the Monadnock Conservancy will need to rely on other donors and grants to help it meet its preservation goals.

Janiszyn said donors and federal funding have helped farmers stay in business while providing healthy food to the local market.

"People like us, and our customers, rely on these programs and the Monadnock Conservancy," said Janiszyn. "It makes it possible to preserve and maintain the rural heritage of New Hampshire."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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