WATERTOWN — There is a lot to preserve in the Litchfield Hills.
There are dozens of land trusts, preservation groups, and open trails available because there is a concentrated effort to protect public and private land. One of the leading proponents in this area is the Connecticut Farmland Trust. Founded in 2002, it is a nonprofit organization working to protect farmland from being developed. CFT is Connecticut’s only statewide land trust, and the only land trust in the state dedicated solely to the protection of agricultural land. As its mission statement explains: “Keeping land in farms helps to establish a local, sustainable food system, supports our economy, and contributes to improving the quality of land, air, and water. Our goal is to make working lands available to Connecticut farmers for the indefinite future.”
Since its inception Connecticut Farmland Trust has partnered with organizations throughout the state to procure agricultural easements on 56 local farms. Thus far it has ensured that over 4,400 acres will remain farmland in perpetuity. And recently it has added Gustafson Farm in Watertown.
“The protection of this farm marks the new beginning for a farm family, and the greater Watertown community that benefits from the land’s preservation,” explains Kathleen Doherty, conservation manager for the trust. “Preserving the land also ensures that a wildlife corridor that stretches from Watertown up through Litchfield County remains in an intact, healthy state.
“We are so very excited about this,” Doherty continues. “CT Farmland Trust is a nonprofit land trust and we cover all of Connecticut. A lot of people are familiar with local land trusts that own nature preserves and hiking trails. We are in the same category but we only do land preservation. We don’t own any land ourselves. The farm in Watertown remains owned by the family, but we have a legal agreement with the family that it will remain a farm, not get converted to housing nor be subject to industrial use.”
Although their reach extends beyond Litchfield County, here is a sampling of some local farms included in their roster: Calabrese Farm, Watertown; Johnson Farm, Washington; Grassy Hill Farm, Falls Village; Dutcher Hill Farm, North Canaan; Phillips Farm, Southbury; and Stone Wall Dairy Farm, West Cornwall.
Gustafson Farm, located between Judd’s Pond and Black Rock State Park, is unique in many ways. In its prime, it was known to locals for its iconic rolling hills, its farm store, and a well-attended orchard as well as meticulously maintained hay field and acres devoted to beef cattle grazing.
The Gustafson agreement is an example of local organizations successfully working together. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Housatonic Valley Association, and CFT were each involved in the farm’s preservation. While the agreement was consummated in June, the process began in the early 2000s, when Alan Gustafson, who died in 2008, began to discuss conservation options with the Housatonic Valley Association. After a period of time when discussions were halted, Gustafson’s daughters Katie Barnosky and Kristie Weidemer, along with their cousin Frank Gustafson, III, continued the dialogue with CTF, eager to preserve the family heritage.
“My father worked so hard,” said Barnosky, “and we are just so happy and relieved that the farm will be preserved. Everyone who comes here comments on what a beautiful spot this is and I think my father would be very proud.”
At the moment, the only activity is haying, which is being done by Barnosky’s son. In the future the family is hoping to begin growing fruits and vegetables again and reopening the farm stand.
“The trees require a lot of work to bring them back,” explains Barnosky, “and I don’t think we can accomplish that this year.”
Whatever the family ultimately ends up doing, its neighbors and the town will be pleased to know that the farm is intact and still run by the original family.
“HVA is so proud of the Gustafson family and of our conservation partners at the Department of Agriculture and Connecticut Farmland Trust who, with patience and persistence, were able to conserve this special property,” said Tim Abbott, regional land conservation director for the Housatonic Valley Association. “Places like this have many reasons for protection — farmland soils and public drinking water and connected forest habitat among them — but saving family land and sustaining families is one of the hardest things to achieve in land conservation and this a wonderful and gratifying outcome.”
The farm, which is large for a farm in suburban Connecticut, was preserved in three pieces to provide the family with more flexibility when it eventually becomes time to transfer or sell the property to the next generation of farmers. In total, 301 acres are now protected.
CFT has preserved two additional farms in Watertown. Osuch Farm is a 40-acre farm that grows corn for a local dairy with public walking trails, owned by the Watertown Land Trust. Calabrese Farm, leased by Logue Farms, is similar to Osuch farm in acreage.
For more information visit www.ctfarmland.org.