Farm Notes from Owen

Farm Notes by Owen O’Connor. Owen will give members a monthly report on land use issues affecting Dutchess County. Here is his first installment.

The Hearty Roots crew farms two pieces of property in the Town of Red Hook, in Northwest Dutchess County (the mailing address is Tivoli). In Red Hook, as in much of the Mid-Hudson Valley, land-use is a hot topic. People are concerned about over-development, but there is disagreement over how to prevent the private-property land system from producing misplaced and excessive building.

Land-use issues are deeply connected with land ownership. The Red Hook community can articulate its goals for the land, but many of the decisions about the land in the hands of those that currently own it. Red Hook has articulated some of its hopes around land-use: two significant surveys, one in 1990 and the other in 1999, show Red Hook residents highly favoring farmland preservation, groundwater protection, and keeping the Town’s rural character. A dance occurs, where policy makers, groups and individuals try to reconcile the community’s goals with the needs and wants of the land owners.

There are 417 private properties in Red Hook that hold significant amounts of open space. These properties contain 15, 991 acres in total, including much of the forested land and all of the farmland. While there are 3,574 households in the Town of Red Hook, our undeveloped land is owned by 287 families and corporations. If all of those landowners were Red Hook families, that would mean that 8% of the families control all of the towns privately-owned open space. But 98 of the property owners list their primary address as outside the Town of Red Hook (only 21 of these list the adjacent towns of Rhinebeck or Germantown as their address). Also, 12 of the owners with Red Hook addresses are private corporations, both profit and non-profit. So Red Hook’s undeveloped lands are in the hands of less than 5% of Red Hook’s families, a handful of local corporations and many outside families and corporations.

Even if more people had claims to our farms and forests, it is not at all clear that private ownership of productive land serves the well-being of the community. Many individuals make their land decisions according to what will bring the greatest financial gain (some are in a financial situations where they have to base their decisions on these criteria). The result is that the short term interests of an individual can cause long-term damage to a community’s resources. In next month’s newsletter, we’ll look at what efforts have been made to resolve this conflict, and see what is ahead for the town.

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