URBAN CREEP IN UPSTATE NEW YORK: OPTIMIZING THE PRESERVATION OF AGRICULTURAL LAND.

Author:Johnson, Lindsey L.
 
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New York State is home to the largest city in the United States and one of the most famous cities in the world: New York City. (1) However, Upstate New York is also home to a diversity of agriculture all across the state from dairy farms, apple orchards, and strawberry fields, to maple syrup, wineries, and cut Christmas trees. (2) A drive across the state in late summer or early fall showcases all that Upstate New York has to offer from the beautiful scenery to the acres upon acres of crops that blanket the landscape with a multitude of colors and envelops visitors in a feeling of home.

In New York and across the United States, there is a deep heritage and tradition of agriculture and it needs to be preserved and protected for future generations. Additionally, the United States is the world's top exporter of food and agricultural products with expectations for the future projected to continue in order to feed the rapidly increasing world population. (3) Upstate New York is home to many farming families and agriculturalists, providing food for those in their local communities across the state, and even across the co .ntry. (4) While farmers take pride in their crops and animals, they are faced with the economic uncertainty of securing the future of the land that they put their blood, sweat, and tears into for future generations.

In the last fifty years, the population growth across the country has created a migration of people from the cities and suburbs to the surrounding urban and rural areas. (5) This move has impacted farming practices because land is a precious commodity and once farmland is redeveloped for housing purposes, that land is lost forever. (6) Unlike European cities that have walls that act as physical barriers indicating where the urban areas end, the United States faces the epidemic of a centerless sprawl because there is no designation on where the urban areas end and people from the urban areas keep expanding farther away from the epicenter of the cities and are encroaching into the countryside. (7)

While there are no walled cities to assist in protecting against a centerless sprawl, farmers have several options to preserve their lands and the agricultural heritage and tradition in America. There are federal programs such as the Farmland Protection Program that conveys a conservation easement as a voluntary restriction on a farmer's land and the Natural Conservation Service that provides financial assistance to farmers that want a conservation easement to limit nonagricultural uses of the land. (8) Additionally, at the state level, New York has a conservation easement program, the Environmental Conservation Law, and a protection plan under the Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide financial and technical support in preserving agricultural land in New York. (9) Furthermore, non-profit organizations, such as the Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA), may assist in providing a portion of the finances required for a conservation easement. (10) At the local level, zoning can be used to fit the goals and objectives of the local community and this personal relationship with the local ecosystem is vital to preserving farmland because farms tend to be the buffer against urban sprawl and therefore, communities must work together. (11) However, increasing demand for land can put a strain on a community and there must be a discussion between farmers and members of the community in order to find a solution to a difficult problem. (12)

In New York State, the Agricultural Mediation Program provides the tools necessary to facilitate a conversation between farmers and community members to address issues regarding farming practices and to find a solution that works for all participants. (13) A neutral third-party would be able to provide services for a community facing a zoning issue and, in the process, the participants are able to listen and learn from one another. To further the connection in communities across the state, the promotion of agritourism and education programs--such as the Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension--can inform the community members about farming and the agricultural practices occurring locally. (14)

Preserving agricultural lands may be a daunting task, but New York State has the tools and capabilities of promoting agriculture and land use planning by focusing on the needs of communities at the local level, expanding the Agricultural Mediation Program to address issues of land use planning and fully utilizing the educational programs available.

  1. THE IMPORTANCE OF AGRICULTURE

    1. Agriculture Across the United States

      While agriculture in the United States "has been a part of our collective societal identity at both the local and national levels", over 175 acres of farm and ranch lands are lost every hour due to urban sprawl and development. (15) Furthermore, around three million acres of farmland across the United States are converted to non-agricultural uses each year with the majority of the land expanding urban areas and increasing transportation from the cities and into the countryside. (16) For example, from 2002 to 2012, land in urban areas went up ten million acres, while between 2007 and 2012, "total cropland decreased by [sixteen] million acres to its lowest levels since ... 1945." (17)

      Beginning in the 1970's and 1980's, people began to move away from cities and near farms on the fringe of more rural areas. (18) This was, in part, due to dense suburbs such as Levittown, New York, where people wanted more personal space and to escape from the congestion, such that most moved to urban areas while others migrated to more rural areas. (19) Urban sprawl was augmented and made easier by the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, which created 42,000 miles of highway which allowed for easier access to rural areas and perpetuated a "centerless sprawl," an expansion into rural areas that is not controlled or centralized. (20) Furthermore, farming close to urban areas results in development pressures from urban and suburban growth and conflicts usually emerge due to this proximity. (21) Currently, many small farms are still pressured by urban and suburban sprawl because of the high demand for the land, whereby farmers are often faced with heavy economic pressures such as high property taxes and incentives to sell their lands to developers. (22)

      Since large areas of agricultural land across the U.S. has been converted to suburban use, "such rapid urbanization may contribute to congestion, diminish environmental quality, and cause an inefficient use of land." (23) Farmers "hold the key not only to the nation's food supply, but also [vital] to managing community growth, maintaining an attractive landscape, and protecting air, water, and wildlife resources." (24) In the last thirty years across the U.S., there has been a large population increase in suburban areas encroaching on rural lands and it is vital to preserve agricultural land now while there is still time to save them because "once farmland is fragmented or converted to other uses, the loss of that farmland is usually permanent." (25)

    2. Agriculture in New York State

      Farmland preservation in New York State began in the 1960's on Long Island, Suffolk County, where farmland loss was first noted due to urban sprawl and the county was able to save its remaining agricultural industry by preserving about 6,000 acres. (26) In upstate New York, agriculture contributes more than $39 billion to the economy annually and is a vital part of identity for many upstate New Yorkers because there are more than 35,000 farms of which many people have some sort of connection with. (27) Additionally, more than seven million acres in New York is in agriculture and that amounts to twenty percent of the State's total land mass. (28)

      The vast majority of farms in New York are family owned and because the local food movement is gaining momentum all across the country, New Yorkers are purchasing healthy foods from local farmers markets and farm stands. (29) The local food movement has been attributed to millennials. (30) Millennials are generally young adults that grew up with technology and they want to know where their food is coming from because they are intrigued with transparency. (31) Millennials are used to searching on their smartphones and being able to research anything they want by the small device they can carry in their pocket. (32) This constant passion and intuitiveness has extended to the food that they eat and they want to know more about where it was grown and how it was grown. Therefore, there is a demand for locally grown foods, but with the population in rural areas increasing and taking up land once used for farming, it is critical that agricultural lands are preserved for continued and future use not only for the farmers, but from those that want to have a deeper connection with the foods that they are consuming.

      In New York State alone, "5,000 acres of farmland per year is lost to real estate development--about one farm a week." (33) Moreover, the saying, "if you build it, they will come" (34) is applicable because if we are proactive and preserve the farmland we have now while continuing the momentum of demand for locally grown foods and educating the general public, agriculture in upstate New York will be prevalent for many years to come. Therefore, farmland preservation should have three main elements: (1) protecting agricultural lands, (2) utilizing available tools and resources, and (3) raising awareness and educating local communities on agriculture and farming.

  2. TOOLS AVAILABLE TO PRESERVE FARMLAND

    1. Federal

      The federal Farmland Protection Program uses easements and other interests in land to conserve agricultural land in order to "protect the agricultural use and future viability, and related conservation values, of eligible land by limiting nonagricultural uses of that land." (35) An...

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