Reaching a major milestone in the five-year effort to ensure that the Pitney Farm in Saratoga Springs is preserved as a community-supported urban farm and agricultural resource center, the non-profit organization established to develop the project has finalized a contract of sale with the Pitney family.
Facing a December deadline for closing, Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. (PMCF) now aims to raise $460,000 to complete the purchase and an additional $600,000 to make improvements necessary to operate as a community farm and establish a required stewardship fund.
“This is the last farm still in operation in the City of Saratoga Springs," said PMCF President Sandy Arnold, who has run the highly successful Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle as a family farm with her husband Paul for 28 years. "We have a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a great legacy to our children and grandchildren."
An Invitation to 'Founding Patrons'
As the centerpiece of its fundraising effort, PMCF is extending an invitation to all who make contributions of $2500 by December 31st to become "Founding Patrons." Those providing this early support will be acknowledged with a plaque to be placed on the silo at Pitney Farm and an invitation to an annual founders event.
"The response to this new program has been amazing, with many making gifts to honor or memorialize a loved one," Arnold said.
"If 400 individuals, families and companies come forward to become Founding Patrons by the end of 2016, we can close on the property and write an exciting new chapter in this farm's 150-year history," she added.
“We’ve already reached many important milestones with the community’s help. Now we just need to finish strong."
A New Generation of Farmers
PMCF is laying the foundation for a large, self-supporting teaching and training farm similar to those that are thriving in other Northeastern communities, such as the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County and the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, VT. Renovating the Pitney Farm's existing buildings and adding new facilities, PMCF will support educational programs and inter-generational community engagement opportunities, including a community garden, a children's garden, a year-round farmers' hub, a farm apprenticeship program, and a commercial kitchen. A key goal is to bring children of all ages onto the Pitney Farm and teach them the vital importance of agriculture, and what it means to produce healthy food for their families.
PMCF also will train a new generation of farmers in advanced techniques of regenerative agriculture that, if adopted worldwide, could transform agriculture from a major source of carbon pollution and global warming into a carbon sink powerful enough to sequester 100 percent of the world’s current annual CO2 emissions.
PMCF is actively exploring the establishment of a region-wide "Winter Growing Institute" that helps farmers extend the growing season with solar-heated “hoop houses.” Joint initiatives with Skidmore College and SUNY Adirondack, which offers an expanding program in sustainable agriculture, are being discussed.
The City's Support
Thanks to the $5 million Open Space Bond Fund that 75 percent of Saratoga Springs voters approved in 2002, the City of Saratoga Springs is contributing $1.13 million toward the conservation easement that will protect the agriculture status of the 166-acre property in perpetuity.
"That's the largest amount the city ever has contributed to an open-space project, and this is the perfect place to do it," said Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen at a fundraising event held earlier this month at the Pitney Farm.
At the same event, Congressman Paul Tonko spoke of importance of the Pitney Farm in Saratoga Springs' "multi-faceted dream of both the 'city in the country' and the 'country in the city.'"
"This great journey can and will be accomplished and its impact will be felt for many generations to come," he added.
New York State has lost nearly a half-million acres of farmland to subdivisions, strip malls, and scattered development over the last 25 years. In face of this trend, "agritourism and community farming already have demonstrated great economic and environmental success in Saratoga and surrounding counties," said New York State Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. "Farmland conservation projects like the Pitney Farm initiative can help secure the health of both our local economy and food supply long into the future.”
Passing the Baton
Arnold credits Saratoga PLAN and many other supporters for essential assistance provided early in the project, including the title search, land surveys, and structural assessments of farm buildings that Saratoga PLAN performed.
“It has been sort of like a relay race," said Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN. "At one point, it became clear that our lap was up and it would be better for another entity to actually own and manage the land, so we passed off the baton.”
"This initiative not only will help to preserve the viewsheds and historic uses of this significant agricultural property in Saratoga Springs, but also will sustain the city's farming heritage and history," said Michael Ingersoll, principal and vice president with the LA Group, which has provided the site plan. "We look forward to seeing this project become a reality for our community in the near future and we are excited to be a part of its creation."