After 154 years, the Pitney Farm has a new owner, following its purchase from the Pitney family by Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. (PMCF), the new 501c3 non-profit organization that will guide the farm into its community- and education-focused future.
The formal closing took place late yesterday afternoon at Adirondack Trust Company’s office in Saratoga Springs. The celebration took place today, as dozens of supporters and public officials, some of whom had looked forward to this day for more than 20 years, gathered at the farm for hot cider, cookies, short speeches, and a group photo in front of the farm’s iconic barn and silo.
“We’ve come a long way, but we have still further to go to fully achieve our vision for the entirety of this amazing 166-acre property,” said Sandy Arnold, a family farmer from Argyle, NY, who with her husband Paul is championing the project with help from a committed group of board members, advisors, volunteers, and a rapidly growing pool of donors.
“We can now fully embark on creating a large, community-supported farm and agricultural resource center with trails. The programming will be educationally based to bring agricultural appreciation to people of all ages,” said Arnold, president of the PMCF board.
The Pitney Farm has been a priority for open-space advocates since it was first included in the city’s Open Space Plan in 1994. By purchasing the development rights documented in a conservation easement for $1.13 million, the City of Saratoga Springs has ensured that the property will be used in perpetuity for “agricultural, forestry, wildlife habitat, water resource protection, educational and other open-space purposes.”
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring to life the new Pitney Farm, while preserving 166 acres and the last working farm in the City of Saratoga Springs,” said Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “The Pitney Farm has been recognized in the City's Open Space Plan for more than 20 years and now the family's agricultural legacy will continue, thanks to the widespread community passion and support and valuable partnerships." This future home of community gardens, year-round produce, and agricultural education will be a tremendous addition to our quality of life."
Barbara Glaser, president of the Nordlys Foundation, long-time open space advocate, and a member of PMCF’s Advisory Council, paid tribute to a long list of community members “who have made contributions large and small toward making this shared community a reality.”
Michael Kilpatrick, “whose initial vision and contact with the Pitney family started us on this journey;”
Sandy and Paul Arnold, “who have brought to the project not only extraordinary leadership but also a passion for sustainable farming and a commitment to training a new generation of farmers;”
Mayor Joanne Yepsen, the entire City Council, and the Open Space Committee for “embracing the Pitneys’ vision and carefully implementing the requirements of the city’s Open Space Bond Fund, which are documented in the conservation easement.“
The PMCF Board of Directors and the Advisory Council, who have “contributed so much of their time and expertise toward developing a solid plan for the project and communicating that plan to public officials;”
Attorneys Jerry Cosgrove, Alisa Dalton, and Oksana Ludd, who, working with the “persistent and steadfast Tony Izzo,” the city’s legal counsel, “performed miracles to make this day possible.”
A COMMUNITY AND TEACHING FARM
PMCF is laying the foundation for a large, self-supporting teaching and training farm that’s 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 property’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.
“Among our chief goals 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,” says Mary Pieper, a consultant to nonprofit organizations who has joined the PMCF board. “We’re exploring a range of synergies with the Saratoga Springs School system, the Saratoga Springs YMCA, and the Waldorf School.”
“We aim also to train a new generation of farmers in sustainable agriculture,” adds Paul Arnold, who with Sandy established Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle in the late 1980’s and through the years has helped dozens of young people establish careers as small-scale family farmers. Joint initiatives with Skidmore College and SUNY Adirondack, which offers an expanding program in sustainable agriculture, are being discussed. PMCF also is actively exploring the establishment of a region-wide "Winter Growing Institute" that will help farmers extend the growing season with solar-heated “hoop houses.”
Over the years the land has been used as a truck farm, growing vegetables for the former Pitney Hotel on Grand Avenue, the Pitney’s Meadow Dairy Farm, and a horse boarding operation. The farm field was even used as the first airplane landing strip in the city at one time in the 1930’s. Most recently, Thomas Poultry has leased it for growing feed corn.
A PROPERTY IN TWO PARTS
“We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to help create a vital community resource for generations to come while preserving our family's history of agriculture and civic responsibility,” says Kathy Pitney on behalf of the Pitney family, which includes her brother, William, and sister, Judith. It was their forebear, Jonathan Pitney, who purchased the property in 1862.
ROWLAND HOLLOW CREEK AND SLADE CREEK MEET GEYSER BROOK ON THE PITNEY FARM, CREATING WETLANDS LIKE THIS.
The property has two distinct parts that are separated by railroad tracks. To the east on West Avenue are 131 acres that include 90 acres of rich farmland, farm buildings, trees and wetlands radiating outward from Geyser Brook, which form the farm’s western boundary. To the west of the tracks are 37 acres with deciduous trees in some areas and groves of towering, 100-year-old white pines in others.
“Trails for recreation and connecting to the property’s woods and wetlands are planned,” says Peter Goutos, a PMCF Advisory Council member who has made a substantial contribution toward developing the property's trail network. "We also will be working with the Greenbelt Trail Committee to establish a link across the property.”
FOCUS ON FUNDRAISING
The property’s purchase price of $2,425,000 was determined by a “very conservative appraisal,” says Cathy Allen, a local realtor and PMCF board member who assisted in packaging the loan. The City of Saratoga Springs funded $1.13 million through the purchase of the development rights documented by the conservation easement on the property. In addition to accepting a conservative valuation, the Pitneys generously donated $645,000 of the purchase price. The remaining $650,000 of the price and the additional $150,000 in closing costs associated with the transaction were provided by PMCF. PMCF funded its contribution through private donations and a bridge loan from The Adirondack Trust Company.
To date, overwhelming community support has brought in donations of approximately $435,000 towards purchasing the land with an additional $130,000 donated for use as operating capital and program seed money.
“Our two top priorities for fundraising are to pay off the bridge loan as quickly as possible and to raise funds for the second phase of the project,” says Allen.
At 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 the Pitney Farm and an invitation to a free annual Founders' event.
“With the closing behind us,” Arnold says, “our team is excited and geared up to move forward to Phase Two in 2017, which will focus on making initial improvements to the site, plant crops on the large 90-acre field, begin building the community gardens, initiate educational programming, and begin mapping of trails and paths for recreational activities.”