Editorial: APR program has successfully protected farmland

Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 27, 2017

Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to adopt Agricultural Preservation Restriction legislation, 40 years ago.

Since its inception, the APR program has permanently protected from development roughly 73,000 acres on 906 farms — with about 15,600 acres on more than 241 farms in Franklin County and another 12,860 acres in Hampshire County.

The program uses state money and private donations to buy the development rights to farmland so it stays in production and is not paved over. This has allowed farmers, after decades of hard labor, to retire without liquidating their only asset, their land, and enables another generation to continue the calling.

“Nowhere else in Massachusetts could you look out on a vista like this and see so much protected farmland through the APR program as you can see from Mount Sugarloaf,” state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said as state and local officials gathered with farmers to mark the anniversary.

The program may have been questioned by urban legislators when it was first proposed, but it has proven its worth, said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, whose district includes more APR farms and more protected acres than any other.

“We’re the stewards of this program, which came as a result of the hard work of legislators who preceded us,” said Rosenberg, citing John Olver of Amherst, a former congressman who sponsored the original APR legislation when he was a state senator, and Jonathan Healy of Charlemont, a former state representative and state agriculture commissioner.

“You’ve not only preserved farms and kept them active and working, but you’ve helped people stay in the farming business, and to help pass farms on to children and grandchildren, and make it possible for new farmers who don’t have land to get access to land,” Rosenberg said, summarizing the program’s benefits.

APR helps continue farming as a way of life but also supports agriculture as an important piece of the Valley economy. It allows us to become locavores — eating locally produced meat, milk, cheese and yogurt, fruit and vegetables. Our beer and bread makers also can use locally sourced hops and grains.

Preservation also boosts agricultural tourism, which is seen as a growing component of the regional economy. Our tourism generally depends on the pastoral countryside, which attracts summer wanderers, autumn leaf peepers and winter adventurers.

Major attractions are often our agriculture fairs and events such as the Three County Fair in Northampton, Cider Days in Franklin County, Mike’s Maze in Sunderland and the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, all rooted in and celebrating local agribusiness.

And we get to live in the rural countryside, not suburbanized former farmland.

Richard Hubbard, former state APR director and current executive director of the Franklin Land Trust, said 90 percent of what you see from Mount Sugarloaf has been conserved.

“We’re not done yet here in the Valley,” he said. “It’s not a perfect program, but nobody’s figured out how to do it better,” despite similar programs in dozens of states.

Massachusetts legislators 40 years ago realized that protecting prime agricultural land was a matter of public concern, and today we thank them for having the foresight to do something about it.

Let’s hope that collectively, the people of Massachusetts, including our urban counterparts in the Boston area, continue to appreciate the benefits of APR and give it their support. Open land is a treasure for us all.