A Strong Farming Community Takes Action: A Story of the Town of Fleming, New York
The town of Fleming lies near Owasco Lake, just south of the city of Auburn in Cayuga County. Primarily a farm community, the town recognized the threat to its agricultural industry from poorly planned development and sought ways to stem the trend. “One of the agricultural policy objectives of the town is to ensure that the agricultural industry remains a viable and profitable industry, in part because doing so protects our open space and rural character,” explains Jim Young, Fleming Town Supervisor. “To date, Fleming has protected nearly 3,600 acres from urban sprawl, moving closer to achieving that goal and helping our town’s farms.”
One such farm was the Culver Dairy Farm, which received a grant from the New York Farmland Protection Program in 2003. Craig and Marlene Culver, the primary operators of the farm, explain how the program helped them invest in the family business and ensure a place for future generations: “Our son, Justin, was 19 years old when we learned our 250-acre dairy farm would be protected. Shortly after this, Justin committed to remaining on the farm and making it his career.”
The town has paired the purchase of development rights program with a progressive zoning code that aims to reduce the fragmentation of farmland. The zoning code allows landowners to subdivide smaller parcels of land for residential purposes than otherwise would be allowed, provided that landowners convey a conservation easement restricting future non-agricultural development on other farm acreage. For example, a farmer may subdivide at a two-acre minimum lot size instead of the standard 10-acre minimum lot size, in exchange for a conservation easement on the remainder of the property. This method allows farmers to access some of the assets in their land, while reducing the footprint of new residential development.
Cayuga County has been awarded seven grants from the New York State Farmland Protection Program to protect farms within the town of Fleming. American Farmland Trust has been awarded three grants from the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to provide matching funds for these projects. The combined $7.3 million provided by these projects are helping farmers to acquire new land; buy new equipment and improve facilities; develop retirement funds; and transfer farms to the next generation. Judy Wright, consultant for American Farmland Trust in central New York, who has been instrumental in many of Fleming’s successful farmland protection grants, says, “Farmers want to protect their land for future generations. However, without the state and federal funding programs, and the town’s commitment to farmland protection, landowners would have no choice in many cases than to give in to the pressure to sell for development. Now, farmers in Fleming can rest easy knowing their dream for a strong agricultural industry in their town is being realized.”
Read a copy of the Town of Fleming Zoning Ordinance