Pitney Meadows in 2017: The Year in Review
The vision that created Pitney Meadows Community Farm is rapidly becoming a reality. Just one year since closing on the 166-acre property, we can look back on a long list of achievements that have laid the foundation for a vital enterprise in sustainable and community farming, education in agriculture, and the training of young farmers.
As we celebrate the end of our first year on the farm, we send our heartfelt thanks to the Pitney family and the entire community of supporters who have made this progress possible. We're off to a great start and -- with your continued support -- we look forward to an exciting New Year.
At our public forum in March, more than 150 people gave us their input on what they want Pitney Meadows to be. In April, the City rezoned our 11-acre "triangle" as a "planned unit development," a key designation that greatly increases our flexibility in planning.
Before we were able to close on the 166-acre Pitney Farm last December, it was necessary to determine the restrictions the Pitney family would require in selling the development rights and finalizing the conservation easement. This was an exacting process that required our cultivating the trust and support of the City Council, which voted unanimously to spend $1.13 million in Open Space bond funds to purchase the development rights.
With those funds in hand plus additional funds raised from private and other government sources, including a substantial donation from the Pitney family, we secured a $400,000 bridge loan from The Adirondack Trust Company (since paid down to a current balance of $211,000) to finalize our purchase of the property and begin operations.
At our public forum in March, we received input on optimal use of the farm land, educational programs for children and adults, building a network of trails, establishing creative connections between agriculture and the arts, development of community gardens, and renovation of existing buildings.
Zoning was an early focus. With the LA Group's invaluable assistance in developing a comprehensive site plan, we achieved the City's designation of our 11-acre "triangle" as a "planned unit development." This will give us greater flexibility in our development of the property than we otherwise would have.
The City's approval of our site plan in May cleared the way for us to move forward with high-priority projects aimed at serving and engaging the community in important ways. All have been made possible only by the remarkable hard work and commitment of more than 100 volunteers who have put forth nearly 6,000 hours of their time to make our vision of the farm a reality.
In April, more than 100 volunteers came forward to help with construction of the Community Gardens. We installed 50 raised and in-ground beds toward the total 200 we ultimately plan.
The Saratoga Springs Planning Board has given us the go-ahead to build up to 200 raised beds in our Community Gardens. In our first year, we installed 35 raised 4 by 8-foot beds, seven beds that are 24-inches tall for those with limited mobility, and eight 8 x 12-foot in-ground plots. All were actively cultivated this summer by gardeners who enjoyed a series of free education programs we offered in the gardens for adults and children and all excess food was donated to local food pantries. Program highlights included our "Grow the Tallest Sunflower Contest" and the Pitney Meadows Art Exhibit. Scheduled for construction in the spring is a pergola with tables and chairs where gardeners can exchange advice and share garden stories.
In July, our volunteers turned toward building our 6000-square-foot high tunnel, which will serve as an event space until we can build a permanent meeting hall. The carpet was laid just in time for our Fire Feast on the Farm, which raised more than $50,000.
We now can offer a remarkable new space that can accommodate as many as 300 people for events of all kinds in the spring, summer and fall. When we're able to fund and build the permanent event space called for by our site plan, we'll reassemble the high tunnel in a new location and use it to teach young farmers how to be successful year-round growers. In 2018, we''ll be back in the high tunnel with our second Fire Feast on the Farm on July 31st.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND RENOVATIONS
Throughout the year, infrastructure has been a major focus, with the installation of sewer service, city water, a 400-amp electrical system, and a well to supply our irrigation system.
We also have made major progress in bringing back to life the farmhouse, which Jonathan Pitney built in the 1880s, the old slaughterhouse, which now serves as a venue for small gatherings, and a building that supports the Community Gardens.
Among our top priorities at the outset was the installation of electricity, and that has now been achieved. The farmhouse, most of the barns and sheds, and the high tunnel are now serviced through a 400 amp electrical system, but much wiring for lighting and other uses are still needed in all structures as time and money permit.
CHILDREN'S GARDEN AND GREENHOUSE
Our Children's Greenhouse and Gardens -- which we aim to build in 2018 -- will be an exceptional farm and educational resource with a classroom and area for growing plants.
Such local philanthropies as the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust have been generous in their support for this new structure, which will be a 30 x 72 foot structure with a surrounding garden designed for teaching children about healthy eating through hands-on activities. Children also will have the opportunity interact with farm animals. Additional support has been provided by Seeds of Change and Johnny's Select Seeds.
We're gratified by the support we've received. More than 100 individuals, families, and businesses have become Founding Patrons by making contributions of at least $2,500.
Hundreds more have given at other levels, showing exceptional support from the entire region and beyond. Pitney Meadows also has benefitted greatly from the contributions of foundations that support our community agriculture enterprise. They include:
- Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust
- Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region
- Firecracker 4 Inc.
- Hamill Family Foundation
- Jane N. Mooty Foundation
- Johnny's Select Seeds
- Kimberly Beth Family Foundation
- Nordlys Foundation
- Rotary Club of Saratoga Springs
- Saratoga Foundation
- Seeds for Change
A CONCEPTUAL VISION
With approvals in place and our first major building projects completed, we now are focusing on further development of our business and strategic plans that will allow us to realize the conceptual vision for the farm.
The Board has named a 12-member Strategic Planning Committee to oversee this process. This group will guide the development of a plan that:
- defines Pitney Meadows' role as a "community farm" in our agricultural, recreational and social community
- explores the financial viability of new initiatives
- outlines necessary component plans
Main areas on which we're focusing include:
- understanding our community and its needs
- best use of the entirety of the farm's 120 tillable acres
- best use of existing buildings and need for new construction
- educational programming for children and adults
- optimal use of the property in hosting events
- development of the farm's recreational opportunities
- plans for marketing, fundraising, and staffing
As of mid-December, we're in the research phase of our planning. See story.