All I See is Potential: My View from the Field in New York
My father, a schoolteacher and dairy farmer, once remarked about his view from the field during planting season. From atop the tractor, he shared, it is important to look ahead, to stay on course, and adjust as needed for the way ahead. But it is equally crucial to keep glancing over your shoulder with a close eye on what seeds have been planted and what influences their opportunity to grow.
I often reflect on his anecdote at this time of year, when we celebrate and assess the lessons from the months past and consider the great and vital work before us, rooted in the needs of New York’s farmers and farmland and in the strength of our dedicated partners.
This fall, American Farmland Trust and the 16 other organizations that comprise the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network celebrated five years of connecting farmers and farmland owners. In that time, 175 farmers have found a place to farm in the region and inspired the statewide Farmland for a New Generation New York, a partnership with the state of New York, that recognized its one–year anniversary in 2019.
New York farmers are on the front lines as our society faces climate change, both in bearing the brunt of its impact and in increasingly being asked to do more to build soil health, sequester carbon, and protect clean water. Here in New York, public leaders, through actions such as the groundbreaking Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and the allocation of record funding in the state budget, recognized the critical role farmers must play and the value of supporting them in helping mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.
On farms, AFT and our partners worked closely with farmers on Long Island and in the Genesee River Watershed to celebrate farmers serving as leaders in regenerative practices and inspire and educate even more to adopt these approaches.
In local communities across the state we’ve advanced the dialogue on solar energy and farmland and raised efforts to bring more New York farm foods into schools. Last summer, American Farmland Trust, through the collaborative initiative Farm to Institution New York State, launched the first New York State Farm to School Institute. Six schools have embarked on the year-long training opportunity to expand their efforts to bring more foods grown and raised in New York into their cafeterias and classrooms.
In Albany, public leaders also renewed their commitment to a strong future for farming in New York in the 2020 state budget, including continued support for the Farmland Protection Program, and by making available $44 million for round two of the Dairy Transitions Farmland Protection Program and to expanding this successful program to other types of farms facing financial hardships. Support for these programs is critical for New York’s farmers and AFT, along with our partners, will work in the year ahead to encourage state leaders to strengthen funding for efforts that will ensure the irreplaceable resource of farmland does not continue to disappear.
Time on a tractor may offer some solitude, but in reality, farming takes a team. So, too, do all of these efforts in New York. We continue to be grateful and inspired by the partnerships and collaborations that together accomplish great things and are poised to do more. In 2019, we also welcomed new staff to our own New York team – Molly Johnston-Heck as regional Farmland for a New Generation manager, Ashlea Raemer as New York program assistant, and Mikaela Perry as Farm to Institution New York State training coordinator.
And as I step into a new role at AFT as New York regional director, I look forward to the year ahead and to the sustained action by partners and collaborators, elected leaders and local community members, farmers and consumers. Though I may not be sitting atop a tractor, my view from the field is looking good.