Scenic Hudson recently announced the permanent protection of several farms in the Hudson Valleys rural Ulster County. That makes nearly 7,000 acres of working farmland my organization has safeguarded from sprawling development the greatest threat to working farms in our region and so many others across the U.S.
Many people are aware of the "no farms, no food" benefit of agriculture. But they may not be aware of the other important contributions of local farms, and they dont know what they can do to help protect them in their region. Here in the Hudson Valley, farming pumps more than $370 million a year directly into our economy. It also helps maintain the regions beauty, heritage and restaurants, which drive a $4.5-billion tourism industry. And because cows and crops dont go to school or require other expensive municipal services, farms make good tax sense, too. No doubt farmers provide the same economic support where you live.
Nevertheless, agriculture is in deep trouble almost everywhere in America, severely hampered by depressed prices, global competition and rapacious, residential and big-box retail store development. In New York State alone, 26,000 acres of farmland are lost each year most of it transformed into single-family housing developments. In the Hudson Valley, seven acres disappear every day.
How can we help turn this trend around? One way is by making farms more profitable by buying local and encouraging the stores we frequent to do the same thing. The produce not only will taste better, but well be cutting down on our carbon miles the distance it takes for the veggies, fruits and meats to travel from the field to our table helping us do our part in the battle to curb global warming. My family buys our produce each season from a local community supported agriculture farm, and we get many of our holiday gifts from a nearby orchard.
Another thing we can do is speak out against developments that threaten our farms while urging municipal leaders to create open space funds and to promote appropriately scaled projects within city and town centers. These will boost, rather than detract from, our quality of life and lasting economic opportunity. Such smart growth policies are the best way we can halt the runaway growth that threatens to overtake our farms, crowd our schools, jam our roads and raise our taxes.
A generation ago, Joni Mitchell sang Dont it always seem to go that you dont know what youve got till its gone.... they paved paradise, put up a parking lot... Take action today. The stakes are higher than ever.
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