Building a Stronger Community On and Off the Farm
Denise Barstow just completed her year-long service year as Kestrel’s Community Engagement and Regional Conservation Coordinator through the TerraCorps AmeriCorps program. She also works at Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley, owned by her family for 7 generations.
In 2014, when my dad and uncle called a family meeting to discuss selling the development rights to our farmland through an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR), I shrugged my shoulders: “Sure, it’s not like it will be anything other than farmland anyhow.” I was 23, pretty uninvolved with the farm, and wildly unaware of the development value of farmland in the Pioneer Valley. But I was also so sure that we’d be farming that land for as long an APR lasted on paper–-which, by the way, is forever.
The Agricultural Preservation Restriction program in Massachusetts preserves and protects agricultural soils from being developed for non-ag purposes or any activity detrimental to farming. The voluntary program helps pay farmers the difference between fair market development value of their land and its agricultural value in exchange for a permanent deed restriction. This prevents any use of the property that will have negative impact on agricultural use. As I explain on farm tours that I give at my family’s farm, it’s like having your cake and eating it too–the farmer owns the land but pays less in taxes and receives a check from the Commonwealth for conservation.
And it was a big check. Big enough for us to make a major reinvestment into our dairy farm. We populated our dairy barn with four robotic milkers–a system that isn’t only better for increasing farm efficiency, enhancing milk production, and tracking data-–it’s also an incredible tool for cow health and welfare. The robot milkers were an investment in our herd, our future, and the next generation–-it’s one of the reasons I came back to work on the farm.
Barstow’s Longview Farm would probably still be putting off the APR paperwork if it wasn’t for Kestrel Land Trust. This was my first introduction to Kestrel. I wanted to learn more, so I began attending events, then volunteering, and then applied for a TerraCorps service year with KLT.
Last November, outfitted in Kestrel hat, Barstow’s sweatshirt, and AmeriCorps pin, I led a group of 30 Kestrel participants on a tour around the farm. It was frigid outside, but the conversation was electric. It wasn’t lost on me that I was sharing my family’s farm with Kestrel Land Trust members—the people who make Kestrel Land Trust’s work possible.
Kestrel Land Trust and the APR program have helped to build more viable family farms here in the Pioneer Valley. It’s a model that’s been replicated across the state–conserving open spaces, protecting access to food, preserving local heritage, and giving the next generation a chance to stick around.
I’m proud to have served in my community at an organization that isn’t just conserving land. Kestrel Land Trust is contributing to the vitality and vibrancy of rural Western Massachusetts and helping people like me feel more rooted to this place I call home.