July 28, 2016

State, feds preserve 130-year old farm

VERNON — A historic family farm will remain agricultural land for the foreseeable future, thanks to the intercession of federal and state departments and the Connecticut Farmland Trust.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service, the nonprofit farmland trust, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on Tuesday completed the purchase of development rights on the 130-year-old Gunther family property off Route 30.

The area will be protected under the Conservation Service's Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, DEEP's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, and a grant from the 1772 Foundation, which works to preserve historic buildings and farmland.

The Gunthers have owned the 22.3-acre farm since the 1890s. It was operated as a dairy until the 1980s, when it was used to raise cattle.

The property encompasses grassland, the Gages Brook floodplain, and habitat for endangered wildlife, and includes some of the highest quality agricultural soils in the state.

The support from public and private sources allowed the nearby Tolland Agricultural Center to acquire the property for a total of $1. This is the first time the Connecticut Farmland Trust has facilitated the transfer of agricultural land to a nonprofit entity.

According to the Conservation Service website, the Tolland Agricultural Center grounds play host to a number of projects, including gardens, a labyrinth, and nature trails. The space is also used for local and regional events, including the Sheep and Wool Festival, the Tolland County 4-H Fair, dog shows, and meetings of University of Connecticut parenting programs, 4-H clubs, and the Boy Scout jamborees.

It is expected that the Gunther Farm will allow the agricultural center to expand its educational mission with the addition of more public trails and a farm incubator operation, a press release said.

The Connecticut Farmland Trust has protected more than 2,500 acres of farmland since its founding in 2002. "Protection" by the trust allows farmers to buy land that would, in most cases, be sold to a developer at a much higher figure. The nonprofit also ensures that farmland is preserved for agricultural use in perpetuity.

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