Westchester Land Trust (WLT) closed a conservation easement on Monday, April 16 to protect Stuart’s Fruit Farm in Somers.
The project -- which took a decade to complete -- is valued at almost $3 million. WLT’s partners included New York state, Westchester County, Scenic Hudson Land Trust, the Town of Somers and Somers Land Trust.
The conservation easement blocks development rights on the farm’s 172 acres thereby ensuring the land remains available for agricultural use in perpetuity. In the absence of this conservation easement, the farmland could have been sold for residential development.
“The protection of Stuart’s Fruit Farm is the product of years of work and is a tribute to the commitment that the Stuart family and our community have to our agricultural heritage,'' said Lori Ensinger, Westchester Land Trust’s President. "It has been a joy and an honor to work with the Stuarts to help protect this cherished resource."
“Protecting the beauty of Granite Springs Road and a working farm with such a rich history is an invaluable product of this partnership,” said Somers Town Supervisor Rick Morrissey. “The announcement of this conservation easement is an incredible gift to all who live, work and recreate in New York.”
“I often think about the future of this land that has been in our family for seven generations," said Bob Stuart who owns the farm with his sister, Mary Lee Stuart Gerlach. "We have customers who’ve picked apples here as a child who now bring their grandchildren to the orchard."
“Our parents, Lee and Mary Stuart, would be thrilled knowing that the future of the farm will continue in our family," Gerlach said. "Thanks to all who made this possible -- this is a very, very special day for us."
Established in 1828, the farm attracts visitors from the tristate area who pick peaches and apples, purchase produce and flowers at the on-site farm stand, select Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees, and recreate along the adjacent North County Trailway. Stuart’s also is a cherished destination for thousands of schoolchildren who visit each year to learn about Westchester’s agricultural heritage.
"Stuart's Farm not only provides consumers with fresh, local fruits and vegetables but allows visitors to learn about the importance of local agriculture," said Scenic Hudson Land Trust Executive Director Steve Rosenberg.
“Somers Land Trust is delighted to see the fruition of years of effort to finally and fully protect Stuart's Farm. It is a priceless asset as one of the last of Westchester's working farms and its agricultural history now will be preserved for all to enjoy," said Somers Land Trust President, Michael Barnhart.
State farmland protection projects are time-intensive and involve a competitive application process. In 2016, WLT was awarded a $1.84 million dollar Hudson Valley Agricultural Enhancement Program (HVAEP) grant from New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets to facilitate the acquisition of the farm’s development rights.
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