Simple Gifts

| 6/17/2013 11:21:00 AM

Tags: agricultural land trusts, Brooke Werley,

pair of oxenThere was excitement in Jeremy Barker-Plotkin’s voice when I spoke with him about his western Massachusetts organic farm. They had just been putting seeds in the ground that day at Simple Gifts, the farm in Amherst he co-owns with Dave Tepfer. Jeremy and Dave have been farming in Amherst together since 2006, but plans to farm together had been in the works for awhile after the pair met at The Land Institute in Kansas.

Jeremy had been farming about 5 acres in nearby Belchertown, on land managed by The New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI). The 100 or so acre parcel, as Jeremy estimates, serves an an incubator for small start-up farms in western Massachusetts. The tillable acrage was split between several farms when Simple Gifts lived there, and is now part of The Pioneer Valley Grain CSA.

Simple Gifts had an eye looking for a new place to farm, when Jeremy and his wife Audrey were driving down Pine Street in North Amherst and saw Don Gallager pounding in a sign that read “Save this farm.”

Don was then co-President of the North Amherst Community Farm (NACF) initiative. NACF was then a group of citizens who had come together to raise the $1.2 million needed to buy the Dziekanowski farm, one of the last working farms in North Amherst.

The roughly 35-acre plot is situated just a mile from The University of Massachusetts down heavily trafficked North Pleasant Street. It is surrounded mostly by student housing complexes. Without NACF efforts, the land almost surely would have been sold and developed to match its surroundings. “We never would have been able to afford the land on our own,” says Jeremy.

Even NACF wasn’t able to come up with the full amount. NACF took advantage of the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program (APR), a program designed to encourage land-owners to preserve farmland by offering a $10,000/ acre sum. This sum is exchanged for an easement agreement that keeps the land permanently safe from development. They were also benefited by the state-funded, but town operated Community Preservation Act. Another large chunk of money came from selling small parcels of the property.

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