Editorial: APR program is worthy of support for all it’s done for local farmland

The Recorder, October 30, 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 the acreage stays in production and isn’t paved over. This has allowed farmers, after decades of hard labor, to retire without liquidating their only asset, their land, and another generation can 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 noted recently 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, 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 former state Rep. and Agriculture Commissioner Jonathan Healy of Charlemont and former Congressman John Olver of Amherst, who was the original APR legislation sponsor when he was a state senator.

“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, summing up the program’s benefits.

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

Preservation also boosts agri-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 leafpeepers and winter adventurers. When we think about the big attractions in Franklin County, it’s often our agriculture fairs, and events like Cider Days, Mike’s Maze in Sunderland or 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.

Legislators 40 years ago realized that protecting prime agricultural land was a matter of public concern, and today we have them to thank 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 also continue to support it. Open land is a treasure for us all.