New Farmland Connections group aims to link landowners with permaculturalists

Stacy Lipari

Stacy Lipari

Got some land that you’d like to see used for sustainable farming purposes, but lack the time or expertise to do it yourself? Or would you like to get into farming, but don’t own any land? Stacy Lipari would like to hear from you.

The recently elected Rosendale Town Board member comes into contact with many local farmers — or wannabe farmers — in her work as coordinator of the Creative Co-op, the community meeting and workshop space located behind the Big Cheese on Main Street in downtown Rosendale. The Co-op regularly hosts a Local Artisan & Farm Shop that is a sort of indoors, all-weather mini-farmers’ market, as well as meet-ups for a CSA and Hyper-local Buying Club. She has become good friends with Creek Iverson, manager of the Brook Farm Project, and is an active member of the Rondout Valley Permaculture group that meets monthly at the Marbletown Community Center.

All this outreach into the local agriculture community has made Lipari very aware of the unmet need for something resembling a land trust organization, but on a much smaller scale, that could help landowners and potential farmers hook up and pool their resources. Her vision is not of a farmland protection group that brokers legal arrangements like conservation easements or purchase of development rights. What she has in mind is a collaborative relationship that is founded more on a sense of stewardship than of ownership of land.

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“There are all these groups working to help farmers secure leases on land to be tenant farmers,” Lipari notes. “They’re paying rent to farm. But that model has proven to be unsustainable: The leases are way too expensive.”

To help fill the gap, Lipari has launched an informal network called Central Ulster Farmland Connections — “but it’s already gone beyond Ulster,” she says. She notes that farmers and landowners have been coming to the Rondout Valley from as far away as Saugerties, Newburgh and Staatsburg to seek out the new group’s help.

“The project I’m working on is to get people to start collaborating and to look at land differently: not as a commodity, but as a shared — dare I say sacred? — resource. Looking at it as a restricted resource doesn’t work out well,” she says, citing the attitude of Native American tribes toward land stewardship as one possible model. “I want to recreate a relationship that we had with the land a very, very long time ago.”

The first gathering of the group occurred in January at the monthly Rondout Valley Permaculture meet-up, and about 45 people showed up, according to Lipari. A follow-up meeting on February 12 at Sky Lake Lodge in Rosendale “didn’t get a huge turnout” due to “minimal advertising,” she says. But there were about “15 people who were very passionate about it.” The attendees participated in an information-sharing workshop and filled out a survey that was basically geared toward determining what they hoped to derive from the group.

Among that group of early participants, Lipari talks about a couple in Accord with a young son who “want people to show them how to use their land” and are particularly interested in learning beekeeping. Another group of young people in Saugerties has started something called the Long Spoon Collective, a Transition Town project working to develop a “post-cash economy” exchange model that incorporates principles of permaculture. Meanwhile, some much older lifelong farmers, also from Saugerties, are “afraid because of legal reasons to have people on their land, to get help.”

To Lipari, the common answer to all these needs and problems is to create a network whereby those with the land and those with the appropriate skills, or a strong desire to learn the skills, can find one another and work out agreements to their mutual benefit. “This really is about land stewardship — about creating abundance for all beings in ways that do not deplete the Earth,” she says. “We’re getting away from the idea that if you’re a landowner, you have something valuable that usually translates to just money.” Rather, the value lies in an older model of shared effort and resources, like an Amish barnraising.

Lipari also sees this network as a way to help channel a new generation of potential farmers into situations where they can develop their skills by working other people’s land. “It’s a good way to build your résumé as a farm manager, if you can say you did it yourself,” she notes.

“Mostly I want to bring people together that I just keep meeting,” says Lipari. “But I also have a selfish reason: I want to make sure that all the food that I eat comes from dirt.”

The next meeting of Central Ulster Farmland Connections will take place at the Creative Co-op at 402 Main Street (Route 213) in Rosendale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 12. Anyone interested is invited to attend. For more information about the group, e-mail Stacy Lipari at cufarmlandconnections@gmail.com.