It’s official. The 166-acre Pitney Farm in Saratoga Springs will be preserved in perpetuity for “agricultural, forestry, wildlife habitat, water resource protection, educational and other open space purposes.”
That’s how the conservation easement approved last night by the Saratoga Springs City Council is worded. By authorizing an expenditure of nearly $1.2 million in open-space funds for the project, the council’s unanimous vote paves the way for Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. (PMCF) to close on the property and start the process of turning it into a large, community-supported farm and agricultural resource center with trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.
“Now the hard work really begins,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen after leading a standing ovation for William and Kathy Pitney, who have made preservation of the farm possible. The property has been in the Pitney family since 1862.
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.
With the commissioners' votes, PMCF now has in hand $2.2 million toward a $3.1 million goal. Confronting a firm December 15th closing date, the PMCF team aims to raise an additional $300,000 to complete the purchase plus $600,000 for first-phase improvements to the property and a required stewardship fund.
The Pitney Farm has been a priority of the City of Saratoga Springs since it was first included in the 1994 Open Space Plan,” noted Barbara Glaser, a long-time advocate, supporter and advisor on the project. She praised Mayor Joanne Yepsen for "her steadfast championing of the project," Commissioner Michele Madigan for her "understanding how to make the bond act work," Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco for "insisting that public recreation be part of project," Commissioner John Franck for his "unwavering support," and Commissioner Christian Mathiesen for "understanding the legacy value of the Pitney Meadows Community farm."
In her testimony, PMCF President Sandy Arnold pledged to make the property an extension of the city's Greenbelt Trail, either by securing an abandoned railroad right of way that crosses the property or establishing another route. The property also will be made available to Saratoga Springs High School for use by its boys and girls cross country running and skiing teams.
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 a free annual Founders' event. Twenty-three such gifts have been received thus far and "more are coming in daily," said Arnold.
More than a dozen people voiced support for the project at last night’s meeting, including representatives of Sustainable Saratoga, Skidmore College, the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, and the League of Women Voters. Among those submitting letters of support were the Saratoga Springs YMCA and Saratoga PLAN.
"Most importantly, the Pitney Farm will continue to feed us and secure a local supply of food," wrote Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN, and Jaclyn Hakes, chair of the organization's board of directors. "Farmland is becoming a scarcer commodity at the same time that New York State farms are able to supply only enough food for 30 percent of the state’s population. The use of this land for agriculture will only increase in value over time."
Richard Torkelson, a Saratoga Springs resident for 20 years, told the commissioners that he and his family moved from central Bucks County in Pennsylvania, an area once renowned for its rich soil and productive farms.
“Now it’s all houses and condos as far as the eye can see," he said. "We never know how valuable something is until it’s gone.”