(Pearl River, NY) Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) Chair of the Assembly Taskforce on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, and the Rockland Farm Alliance today held a community education event at Bluefield Farm, an organic flower farm in Blauvelt, to announce passage of the Suburban Agriculture bill she sponsored, (A8026/S6360) An Act to Amend the Agriculture and Markets Law, in Relation to Agricultural Districts, which reduces the current required acreage to form an Agricultural District from 500 to 250 acres. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.
The legislation was inspired by Rockland farmers who have been trying for years to remove barriers to farming in suburban communities as well as a policy forum Assemblymember Jaffee held in July 2013 to discuss how to protect farmland in suburban areas like Rockland and meet the increasing demand for local food by consumers, restaurants and schools.
Reducing the minimum acreage in creating Agricultural Districts is critical to preserving and restoring farmland and reviving the farming tradition of Rockland, Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties as well as creating additional Agricultural Districts Upstate. A Suburban Agricultural District would also protect farms, as the bill states, from "overly restrictive local laws, government funded acquisition or construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices in the districts."
“I want to extend a special thanks to Joy Macy for so generously hosting us at Bluefield Farm,” Assemblymember Jaffee said. “On this beautiful summer day, as the growing season is underway, could there be a better place to take a deep breathe, literally smell Joy’s flowers, and truly understand why preserving and protecting farmland in suburban communities sprouts new businesses, boosts the local economy, increases property values, preserves open space and the environment while improving the quality of life for all of us?” She continued,” If it weren’t for Joy’s efforts to preserve an historic, working farm, Bluefield Farm, like so many farms in Rockland County, would be only a fading memory, the stuff of stories, a victim of development, sub-divided, turned into track homes or perhaps even a strip mall.”
Assemblymember James Skoufis (D-Woodbury), co-sponsor of the bill, said, “I’m proud to have helped pass such an important initiative that protects farmland and open space and will help ensure residents have access to affordable, fresh and healthy produce.”
Assemblymember Jaffee was also joined by John McDowell, Rockland Farm Alliance Founder and President; Linda Hill Conklin, Rockland Farm Board President and Co-Owner Orchards of Conklin; Joan Gussow, Professor, Author, Food Policy Expert; Andy Stewart, Orangetown Supervisor; Sara Levine, District Representative, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland); Myrnia Bass-Hargrove, Rockland County Director of Community Relations; Pat Claiborne, Interim Executive Director Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland; Michele Kleinman, Public Health Nutritionist, Rockland County Health Department; Althea Mullarkey, Public Policy & Special Project Analyst, Scenic Hudson, Inc.; Rockland farmers, community leaders, advocates and stakeholders.
The first grade class from Fleetwood Elementary School, East Ramapo Central School District,
Principal Pat Simmons, and teachers were special guests. They toured the farm, learned about local food production, and enjoyed a picnic lunch prepared by the Rockland Roots Food Truck, which included organic flatbread pizza made from local grain, Hudson Valley cheese donated by the Hungry Hollow Food Co-op in Chestnut Ridge, as well as lemonade made from local herbs. The Rockland Farm Alliance provided produce from Cropsey Community Farm, a project of Rockland Farm Alliance.
John McDowell said, “It is increasingly clear that we need to live within the proximity of our food source. The benefits of local farms go beyond just fresh healthy food; they include educational and economic opportunities and a better quality of life for local communities and future generations. I am thrilled that the bill passed with New York State lawmakers from all sides.”
Linda Concklin Hill said, “Hurray to all who eat in Rockland! Rockland County farming will have the opportunity to change and grow with the amending of the Agriculture and Markets Law to allow smaller Agricultural Districts. Thanks to the support of Ellen Jaffee and her Food, Farm and Nutrition Task Force, Rocklanders will have access to locally grown food in the future. New and old farmers will benefit from this change as it will afford the local farmers with protections allowing farming to coexist with suburban neighbors.”
Joan Gussow, whose pioneering work revolutionized the way we look at where we get our food said, "The suburban farming bill Ellen Jaffee has successfully brought through the legislature is nothing short of revolutionary. It offers the best kind of support to those trying to bring food production back to the suburbs."
Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said, “I am pleased to join Assemblywoman Jaffee to celebrate the passage of this important bill to protect vulnerable suburban farmland. Dozens and dozens of farms were once located in Orangetown, but nearly all of them have given way to residential and commercial development. By making it easier to form a New York State Agricultural District, this bill will help preserve the agricultural tradition of Orangetown and Rockland County.”
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) said, “Assemblymember Jaffee’s proposal is a win for farmers, communities, and consumers in the Lower Hudson Valley. It will protect smaller farms in suburban areas, increase property values, create jobs, and help ensure a steady supply of locally-grown produce to our community. We in Rockland and Westchester have a deep appreciation for nature, and we pride ourselves on using our limited open spaces in responsible, sustainable ways. Assemblymember Jaffee’s approach lines up with our tradition.”
Rockland County Executive Ed Day said, "It's no secret that Rockland County has lost thousands of acres of farmland to development in recent decades. Changes to the Suburban Agriculture Bill detailed today will help preserve our remaining open space for future generations. Local farms, such as The Orchards of Concklin in Ramapo and Dr. Davies in Clarkstown, provide jobs, volunteer opportunities and help to engage our young people in local agriculture and environmental education. I applaud Rockland Farm Alliance President John McDowell and fellow RFA members for supporting the Suburban Ag bill and I thank Assemblywoman Jaffee for sponsoring such important legislation, designed to help smaller counties safeguard existing farmland acreage. Let's continue to collaborate on future efforts to preserve Rockland County's unique landscape."
Alden Wolfe, Chair of the Rockland County Legislature said, "Rockland is one of several suburban counties that do not have the required existing farmland to qualify for protection under Agricultural Districts Law. Assemblywoman Jaffee's bill would make it easier to both preserve existing farmland and develop new farms. This will have clear economic benefits. We have seen how the increased popularity of farm markets and demand for fresh local produce has bolstered local economies."
Steve Rosenberg, Senior Vice-President of Scenic Hudson and Executive Director of the Scenic Hudson Land Trust stated, “Passage of the Suburban Agricultural District Bill would allow communities to plan smarter and keep productive farmland near urban centers available for farming. Facilitating the protection of productive farmland— fundamental to meeting the growing demand for fresh, local food in the Hudson Valley and New York City—is an essential goal of Scenic Hudson’s Foodshed Conservation Plan. The bill will also promote new agricultural ventures that attract visitors, provide jobs and boost local economies while simultaneously conserving the natural beauty and health of our communities.”