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North Hadley Family Farm Saved for the Community

Szala Farm

For more than 350 years, Hadley has been known for farming. The town has one of the highest percentages of conserved farmland in the Commonwealth, but development—both commercial and residential—is increasing and threatening historic farmlands and family farms.

In the northeast corner of town on the border with Amherst and Sunderland, one of the larger family farms—more than 180 acres—was at risk from this pressure, as house lots have pressed in around it over the past several decades.

This land owned by the Szala family was so important to the community that people were looking to save it 25 years ago. Valley Land Fund, which merged with Kestrel in 2011, started a conversation with the family about protecting their farm back in 1994, but the time was never quite right.

Some seeds take a long time to germinate, and this one finally broke into daylight in 2018. With only two remaining Szala siblings left, both of whom were aging, now was the time. Kestrel began crafting a plan that would work for the family, and set to work raising the funding, securing agreements with other farmers and non-profit groups, and brought it all together to acquire and protect the land.

In October, Kestrel purchased 142 acres of the farmland on Shattuck Road, and will hold the land temporarily thanks to a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund, until the state and town are ready to purchase the Agricultural Preservation Restriction. At that time, the protected farmland will be sold to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to create a new Food Bank Farm that will be operated by local farmers, and help to feed people most in need with fresh local vegetables.

Kestrel will retain a trail easement over the farm, and work in partnership with the Food Bank to create a trail system that gives the public the opportunity to experience the farm and wetlands, and explore a historic canal that connects to conservation land in Amherst.

Old canal along Szala farm property.

The project also saved 25 acres of wetland and forests off Route 116, which are now added to the Katherine Cole and Podick Conservation Areas—Kestrel’s first partnership project with the Town back in the 1970s. Kestrel will hold a Conservation Restriction over this land, and work with the Town to create a welcoming entrance with improved parking and trail access. Our vision is to eventually connect these trails to the adjacent Food Bank Farm.

Another Hadley farm family purchased the remaining 26 acres of farmland on Comins Road that includes a house and several barns and outbuildings. Fifteen acres of active farm fields behind the buildings will be protected by a Conservation Restriction held by the Town of Hadley Conservation Commission.

This effort would not have been possible without the support of members like you who provide the resources for our staff and board to do this work. Kestrel is also grateful to the Conservation Commissions, Select Board, Town Council, and Community Preservation Act Committees of the towns of Hadley and Amherst, and to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources for their pledge of funds, cooperation, and support to protect the entire farm.

Every conservation project takes a community of people to make happen, and we are grateful to the many partners and individuals who have been involved in this complex conservation effort.


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