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Farmer Landowner Match Program

Are you looking for farmland to start a new operation, or for land to diversify and expand an existing farm? If so, the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) has a program tailored just for you. It is the Farmer Landowner Match Program, an initiative that connects landowners seeking to have their land farmed with farmers seeking land.
Since its inception in 2008, this Match Program has grown its database to more than 200 active participants. And it isn’t just for Columbia County residents. In mid-2013, CLC established a partnership with the Dutchess Land Conservancy to serve farmers and landowners across both counties. Today, CLC can comfortably say that this successful initiative has helped dozens of hard-working farmers get established or diversify their business.
“It is thanks to CLC that I am here,” says David Rowley, owner of Monkshood Nursery in Stuyvesant, NY. “And it is thanks to CLC that you are here,” he turns to the owner of Ardith Mae farm, Shereen Alignaghain who leases the barn from David. Theirs is a Match story and more!
First, David was leasing land to grow his organic vegetables. Then the opportunity came for him to purchase the farm, so he worked with CLC and an organization called Scenic Hudson to conserve the land as farmland, which allowed the sale price to reflect the agricultural value of the property rather than the development value. So David became the owner of Monkshood Nursery. He erected several large greenhouses and he was cultivating the land’s rich soils, but he had no use for the large barn, a remnant of a cow dairy.
That’s when CLC’s Marissa Codey, conservation & agricultural programs manager, approached David about a possible match. Shereen Alignaghain of Pennsylvania was moving to Columbia County with her dairy goats. At first Shereen was hesitant: “It is hard to farm together unless we have a very similar approach, and have similar goals.” Turns out the two farmers’ goals are not only compatible, but they often work and strategize together. “Marissa knew better than me what I needed,” admits Shereen. She incorporates David’s herbs and shoots in her cheeses, David helps with fine-tuning the barn for her animals, and together they plan to expand their farms to add a licensed organic kitchen – with Shereen’s license and David’s vegetables. “This is a great match,” confirms Shereen, whose Ardith Mae Farm now calls the large barn a home.
After seven years in existence, the strength of the Match Program is in becoming well known within the farmer community, so many farmers find out about this great opportunity through word of mouth.
For example, Schuyler and Colby Gail looked for suitable farmland through conventional real estate for six long years without success. They were raising animals on Schuyler’s grandmother’s land in Rensselaer County. Then one of their friends mentioned CLC’s Farmer Landowner Match Program, and what a big help it was for them. Schuyler and Colby got on the phone, and within months CLC matched them with an ideal 20 acre parcel in New Lebanon. This was back in 2012. ”We had 40 requirements that we felt a good property had to have, we really did,” remembers Schuyler, “and the only one it didn’t have was the potential for hydropower.” The match was exactly the jumpstart they were looking for. And Climbing Tree Farm was born.
The Gails now own those rolling 20 acres, and are leasing an adjacent 370-acre forested parcel to run Climbing Tree Farm, an innovative silvo-culture operation. They are proud to keep their kids in touch with the land and livestock. “They know what work is, and they know where food comes from,” says Schuyler. “It is a good life for a kid.” “It is a good life for a grown-up too,” adds Colby.  As much as it is a work in progress, Climbing Tree Farm is also a true success story – it is sustainable financially and environmentally, and affords the Gail family a life all four of them embrace. CLC is proud to have provided the resource that laid the groundwork for the Gails’ success.
Of course, not every match happens as fast as the Gails’. Both the landowners and the farmers can spend significant time, sometimes years, interviewing potential partners before both are comfortable enough to feel their goals will be met. Each case is unique, and CLC works with participants to help them with their individual needs.
Over the course of two years, landowners Joe and Carla Brancato of East Chatham met with several farmers before they felt their property would achieve its potential in the hands of Kim and Tom Kubisek. The land used to be a dairy farm, and Joe wanted to return it to a working landscape. As an architect, he put a lot of work into resuscitating the neglected barn – which is now home to lactating sows and their piglets on the lower level, and provides storage for livestock feed on the main level – then erected a shed / chicken coop for their laying hens, and has been heavily involved in developing the infrastructure of the budding operation called Rolling Creek Farm.
The Kubiseks have been tirelessly growing this farm for the last three years, and this fall they will proudly make their first pork, beef, and poultry contribution to a CSA – displaying brand new ‘Rolling Creek Farm’ labels that Joe and Carla Brancato had designed. What kind of farm did it become? Because the landowner – farmer partners are not afraid to try anything, they now have beef cows, some of them Aberdeeen Angus, several Tanworth cross breeding pigs, meat birds including chickens and turkeys, laying hens, a growing vegetable garden, a pumpkin patch, and even two grateful rescue horses the Kubiseks brought over from their previous farm. Carla Brancato and Kim Kubisek are cooking up plans to add strawberry jam to their CSA deliveries. Oh, yes, and they also planted apple and peach trees a few years back that will bear their first fruit this fall. And who knows, if you stop by, you might find them caring for new livestock we did not get to meet at our visit. “If it wasn’t for CLC, this match wouldn’t have happened” are Joe’s parting words as we leave the farm behind.
Behind the success of CLC’s matches is the Conservancy’s close attention to the needs of every participant in their Farmer Landowner Match Program, and a personal involvement in the introductions of potential farmer-landowner partners. The Conservancy welcomes interest from all farmers and from Columbia or Dutchess County landowners as it grows its Match Program database. To find out more about how this program can help you start or expand your farm, please contact CLC’s Marissa Codey at Marissa@clctrust.org or 518.392.5252, ext 211.
Sara Hart is the communications manager at Columbia Land Conservancy in Chatham, NY. She can be reached at sara@clctrust.org or 518.392.5252, ext. 214.

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Sarah Diana Nechamen

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