OSI Protects Historic Rondout Valley Dairy Farm
Since our last report in the fall 2008 issue of this newsletter, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has permanently protected the 149-acre Domino Farm on Airport Road in the town of Rochester.
In partnership with the town of Rochester, in early May OSI acquired a conservation easement on the historic dairy farm, which is owned by Margaret DeWitt and managed by members of the DeWitt family. The easement allows for dairy operations to continue, but ensures that the land will not be developed. In addition, adjoining landowners Robert and Eileen Rominger plan to donate a conservation easement on their property—currently leased to the DeWitts—protecting 93 more acres, bringing the amount of protected land to approximately 242 acres. The easement will held by the Rondout Esopus Land Conservancy and OSI.Domino Farm is one of only four remaining dairy farms in Ulster County. The farm was purchased by the DeWitt family in 1955 and named “Domino” for the black and white patterns on the Holstein cows. Its 175 cows and 150 heifers, now mostly Jerseys, rank among the top 10 in the nation for herds of its size. In the future, the DeWitts anticipate selling value-added milk products such as butter and cheese. In addition to the dairy operation, the farm cultivates corn, alfalfa and grass. More than half of the property contains fertile, high-quality soils of statewide significance.
Three-quarters of the cost of the Domino farm easement was funded by a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) grant awarded by the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets Farmland Protection Program. OSI provided the balance of the funds. The farm is situated in the foothills of the Shawangunk Ridge at the edge of the Catskill Mountains and enjoys a spectacular view of the Sky Top Tower and lands of the Mohonk Preserve. To date, OSI has protected six farms in the Rondout valley totaling approximately 1,240 acres. In each of these farmland protection deals, OSI is purchasing the development rights to the farm through use of an agricultural easement agreement, but leaves the farm in the private ownership of the farmer; this means that the farm remains private property, stays on the local tax rolls, and continues as a productive business, generating income for the farmer, and fresh, local products for local residents.
In all of these deals the farmer agrees in a legally binding document not to subdivide property for housing developments, commercial strip malls, or other uses. It is truly a win-win: the farmer gets paid for the development rights, gaining the cash to pay off debt, allow parents to retire, rebuild the farm, or go into a new line of farming. And the beautiful farming landscapes of the Rondout Valley remain beautiful farming landscapes, rather than housing developments and commercial strip malls.
OSI is working on the protection of additional farms in the Rondout Valley, as well as several farms in the neighboring Wallkill Valley. We welcome your questions and input. Check out our website at www.osiny.org or feel free to call Bob Anderberg, OSI’s General Counsel, at 212-290-8200.