14 acres of farmland preserved in Granby

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 2, 2018, by Michael Connors

After years of waiting for a development restriction from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, 14 acres of farmland on Taylor Street was designated “forever farmland” earlier this week.

Ryan Voiland, owner of Red Fire Farm, has been growing vegetables on the land for more than a decade. When the property went up for sale in 2015, the farm could not afford the $100,000 development rights.

“We were renting that land from the original land owners, and they were giving us short rental agreements,” said Voiland. “When it went on the real estate market, we were very concerned because the owners did not seem particularly conservation minded.”

Red Fire Farm looked to Kestrel Land Trust, a non-profit conservation organization, for help in securing an agricultural preservation restriction from the state Department of Agricultural Resources. The Massachusetts agricultural preservation restriction program protects agricultural farmland by using state and federal funds to purchase the non-agricultural value of the land and to restrict activities that may impact the agricultural use of the land.

The trust bought the property with the intention of selling it back to Voiland at a reduced price through the help of a bridge loan from their financing partner, The Conservation Fund.

“We were able to hold the property for Red Fire Farm for a couple of years while the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources garnered funding for an agricultural preservation restriction,” said Kristin DeBoer, executive director of Kestrel Land Trust.

Voiland said he was concerned about the effect the potential loss of farmland would have on sales at his Granby farmstand.

“We were definitely worried about it,” Voiland said. “If we don’t have land for crops, we won’t have crops to grow. It’s very good land.”

The state acquired the necessary funds to grant an APR to Red Fire Farm this week. Since the new property is protected by the state, Red Fire Farm fully owns the land for their own agricultural use.

“MDAR is grateful to Kestrel Land Trust and to our federal partners at NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) for working with us to ensure the preservation of this agricultural resource in Granby,” the department’s commissioner, John Lebeaux, said in a statement.

Voiland said that he was grateful for the help that Kestrel Land Trust provided him and his business in their effort to protect their farmland.

“They’ve been very helpful to work with,” Voiland said. “These sort of things would be that much harder to get done without that kind of help.”

This is not the first time Kestrel had helped Red Fire Farm acquire an agricultural preservation restriction. When Voiland purchased his original 50 acres of farmland on Carver and Taylor Streets in 2001, Kestrel also helped secure a preservation restriction for that land.

“We are looking to protect farmland and help farmers whenever possible, because conservation is our main goal,” DeBoer, of Kestral Land Trust, said. “We often work in towns like Hadley, Granby and across the river in Northampton and Hatfield.”

Although the 14-acres of farmland is protected by the state from any type of development, Voiland said that the cost of keeping up the farmland since fully owning it presents a new challenge.

“Now we’re finding that it’s much more expensive in terms of mortgage payments,” Voiland said. “That 14-acre parcel is going to cost us $7,000 a year in mortgage payments compared to the $2,000 a year that we were paying in rent before.”

Regardless, Voiland said he is glad the land and its fertile soil is staying farmland.

“It’s good that it’s not going to turn into a housing development,” Voiland said.