In 2012, Connecticut Farmland Trust marked its 10th anniversary. Launched by people associated with the Hartford Food System and the existing “Celebration of Connecticut Farms, Food and Art” and others, it was founded as a land trust solely to protection Connecticut’s working lands. While the bylaws of the organization permit the outright purchase in fee of appropriate properties, in practice the group has limited itself to the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements.
There has been notable success. CFT quickly built a reputation as a lean, efficient organization doing good work with a minimum of waste. In ten years, CFT has protected 27 farms and over 2,200 acres of land. In 2012, CFT was awarded Accredited status by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission – a sign that what was once a raw young group had quickly become a seasoned and respectable land trust, adhering to the highest organizational and conservation standards. Our work will stand the test of time.
Initially much of this protection was accomplished via donation. Very quickly, however, the majority of work began to come through purchase agreements. Just as quickly, those purchases became partnership projects employing large grants from state and federal sources to match with one another and typically modest inputs from CFT. The Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture are our most important public collaborators.
CFT’s value to these partnerships is typically threefold: as a not-for-profit organization, CFT can negotiate a bargain sale that the landowner can take advantage of. As a third party, CFT can move quickly to create and sign-up deals, as well as act as a facilitator between state, town, and federal entities which are not always motivated to proceed quickly or in harmony with each other. Finally, due to its nature as a land trust, CFT is obligated to perpetual stewardship of the properties it protects, thus delivering credibility to the promise of conservation. This in turn helps to attract private donations. As a result of these partnerships, CFT has been able to offer private givers a remarkable overall leverage ratio of 34:1.
In addition to the successful conservation work CFT undertakes and the ongoing stewardship of its properties which it performs, there are a number of “programmatic” endeavors in which the organization engages. We know that the pace of conservation will always be outstripped by the pace of development. We also know that the best way to keep farmland protected is to keep a farmer on it. As the landscape for conservation changes, with State and Federal cutbacks making it harder to acquire easements, CFT will have to be more innovative in how it undertakes its mission.
Most of these endeavors are undertaken in collaboration with a variety of other groups. As an Accredited organization – one of only six in the state – CFT has the professional credibility to lead these kinds of discussions and act as a worthy partner to collaborative efforts. While land protection is viscerally parochial, strategies and tactics can be implemented more universally. In a small geography like Connecticut, we have the advantage of being the only land trust devoted to agriculture. This provides us with a platform and an opportunity.
Perhaps the most important of these partnerships is the complementary work undertaken by the Working Lands Alliance (WLA). A project of American Farmland Trust, the first line in the description of WLA on their website is “The Working Lands Alliance was formed in 1999 with the sole purpose of preserving Connecticut’s most precious natural resource – its farmland.” WLA does everything to protect Connecticut’s farmland except actually protecting it. CFT sits on WLA’s steering committee and the two groups coordinate their work whenever appropriate. WLA focuses on advocacy, education and lobbying activities; they prepared the landscape for the work that we do.
Connecticut Farmland Trusts stands today at the leading edge of the fight to protect Connecticut’s rich agricultural legacy — thanks to you.