Franklin Land Trust
2013 Local Hero Awardee
Harry Dodson and Steve Judge founded Franklin Land Trust (FLT) in 1986 when they recognized that the farmland and landscape that define Franklin County were seriously threatened. Facing severe economic challenges, small family farms were rapidly selling off land. Housing developments endangered not only the beautiful rural scenery, but also the local agricultural economy.
At the time new land trusts were forming all over the country. Most were focused on conserving open space. For Dodson, a landscape architect, and Judge, a building inspector, preserving farms and farmland was top priority from day one. Since the beginning, farmers with a personal commitment to FLT’s success have served on the board of the organization. During the past 26 years, FLT has completed 163 farm preservation projects, protecting more than 12,000 acres of agricultural land. Altogether, the organization has helped conserve more than 26,000 acres.
Executive Director Rich Hubbard, who joined FLT in 2004, was the western Massachusetts field representative for the MA Department of Agricultural Resources’ Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program; he joined the program in 1987 and became its manager in 1988. Subsequently, Hubbard served as Massachusetts’ Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture. Hubbard says that he used to worry about the future of farming in some parts of the state, but he never worried about the health of farms in the Valley because of the plentiful prime soil here and the local agricultural economy’s deep roots.
No land trust in Massachusetts has conserved more farms through APRs than FLT. The APR Program offers farmers a non-development alternative by paying the difference between the fair market value and the agricultural value of their land in exchange for a permanent deed restriction on the property. As a result, neither the present owner nor any future owner may use the land for any purpose that negatively impacts its agricultural viability. FLT has protected farms of many types and sizes using APRs.
Apex Orchards, a Local Hero farm in Shelburne, was protected with FLT’s help in 2000. The 180-acre farm has been in Tim Smith’s family since 1828. Prior to the late 1990s, the farm was primarily a wholesale apple orchard that raised fruit for sale in the US and Europe. Smith used the APR funds to invest in the farm’s future, increasing profitability by transitioning from a wholesale to a retail business and diversifying his crops. Apex now sells farm-grown apples, peaches, nectarines, apricots, pears, and other fruit at its own retail store and at stores and farmers’ markets throughout the area. Preservation of this property also protected one of Franklin County’s most spectacular views from the Apex orchard.
In recent years, FLT has become known beyond Massachusetts for its signature annual event, the Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonee, or D2R2. After beginning as an informal bike ride along dirt roads through small towns in Franklin County, the D2R2 became an organized event in 2005. Riders choose from 180K, 150K, 115K, 100K, and 40 mile routes that, according to FLT’s website, traverse the “narrowest, oldest, twistiest, quietest, and most scenic roads available.” D2R2 is limited to 1,000 riders, many of whom are competitive cyclists who travel great distances to participate in the event as part of their training. The event sells out every year, raising a significant part of the land trust’s annual budget. With its celebratory atmosphere and great food, the event has gained a reputation for being one of the hardest, most beautiful, and most fun rides available.
In Franklin County the race against development pressure continues as FLT works to help landowners protect as much land as possible while opportunities still exist. Fortunately, FLT has created a community of people who are passionate about preserving the essence of Franklin County – its farmland, agricultural heritage, and rural identity. The FLT website states: “We celebrate the landscape, the history, and the rural culture of western Massachusetts, and work to ensure, through a program of land protection, that the historic pattern of field, woodland and village will endure for the benefit of generations to come.” For more information, visit franklinlandtrust.org.