Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust
2013 Local Hero Awardee
Founded in 1986 in response to rapid unorganized development of productive farm and forestland in the region, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust protects significant natural, agricultural, and scenic areas and encourages land stewardship in north central and western Massachusetts for the benefit of the environment, the economy, and future generations.
Mount Grace’s first success was saving the 365-acre Lawton Tree Farm in Athol, which was threatened with development into 200 house lots. The property is now the Lawton State Forest, where the public can explore trails through woods and wetlands owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Adjacent to Lawton is Skyfields, the farmhouse and forty acres of forest and fields bequeathed to the land trust in 1999 that now serves as its headquarters.
Since its founding, Mount Grace has protected 27,000 acres of land, about 3,000 of which are farmland. Executive director Leigh Youngblood points out that farmland preservation is especially important because of the high cost of agricultural land. Massachusetts farmland is among the most expensive in the country. Since the 1980s, the state has lost more than 18% of its agricultural land. Much of it has been sold for development, which drives up the cost of the remaining farmland and creates a major barrier for young farmers.
To address this challenge, Mount Grace recently launched the Campaign for Affordable Farms. The land trust is working with Red Fire Farm, a successful farm business and 1500-member CSA that lacked long-term secure tenure for much of the land they farmed in Granby. The farm’s owners, Ryan and Sarah Voiland, bought additional excellent farmland in Granby, but recognized that the purchase price would saddle the business with unsustainable debt.
In a creative partnership that builds on the work of Turners Falls-based Equity Trust and also involved the state’s APR program, Mount Grace will own the Montague land and the Voilands will own the farmhouse and other buildings. The land trust will grant an inheritable and renewable 99-year lease to the farmers and the resale price of the farm buildings will be restricted so that they are permanently affordable for the next farmer.
Referred to as “whole farm affordability,” this approach ensures that the farm has everything it needs – land, barns, greenhouses, and housing – at an affordable price. The land trust holds the land as a community resource, ensuring the production of fresh, local food on the land in perpetuity.
Another of Mount Grace’s recent undertakings is the Massachusetts Land Initiative for Tomorrow (MassLIFT) AmeriCorps program. Mount Grace initiated and manages this collaborative effort among regional conservation organizations that provides training to participants and additional person-hours for land trusts, thus increasing the pace of land and watershed protection across the Commonwealth. Currently sixteen organizations host twenty MassLIFT AmeriCorps volunteers through the program.
For more information including a map of conservation areas and information about protected farms, visit mountgrace.org.