When Frederick and Mary Gunther began farming in Vernon and Tolland, Connecticut, approximately 130 years ago, they had no idea of the legacy they would leave.
Working with Frederick and Mary’s descendants, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Connecticut Farmland Trust (CFT) purchased the development rights on the property to ensure that Gunther Farm remains in agriculture in perpetuity.
Last week, Connecticut Farmland Trust transferred the protected Gunther Farm to the Tolland County Agricultural Center (TAC), a regional leader in agricultural education, in CFT’s first buy-protect-sell project. Located in a highly developed area, TAC had been unable to expand its operation until CFT secured public and private funding to purchase the adjacent 22.3-acre Gunther Farm. CFT placed an agricultural conservation easement on the property and then gave the restricted land to TAC. The addition of Gunther Farm will enable TAC to add educational opportunities for youth and adults, more public trails, and an incubator operation for a beginning farmer.
Several generations of the Gunther family used the farm primarily as a dairy, until the death of Russell Gunther in 1983. “The land has been in our family since the 1890s and had been farmed continually up to my dad’s death,” said Ellen Rodzen, Russell’s eldest daughter. “With this much farming history invested in the land, it just did not feel right to consider development of these acres.”
Rodzen’s sister, Doris Ostrowski, concurred saying, “The family all agrees that placing our farm under protection and keeping it as open space is the right thing to do.”
Gunther Farm is home to some of the state’s best agricultural soils and possesses important grassland habitat, the Gages Brook floodplain, and prime habitat for endangered wildlife – all of which will be permanently protected due to generous financial support from USDA-NRCS’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, DEEP’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, and a grant from The 1772 Foundation. Connecticut Farmland Trust and was awarded all three grants.
“Preserving this tract of land is of substantial benefit to Connecticut and its residents,” said Thomas L. Morgart, NRCS State Conservationist. “Much of it has been found to be either prime farmland soils, or statewide important soils, meaning that particular land has the ability to produce high yields of crops when treated and managed according to acceptable farming methods.”
“We are pleased to preserve the Gunther Farm – for the family as well as for TAC. The farm is one of the last in Vernon/Tolland and has been threatened by encroaching development for more than a decade,” said Elisabeth Moore, CFT Executive Director. “We are grateful to the Gunther family and our project funders for making preservation of the farm possible.”
“Without the expertise of Connecticut Farmland Trust,” said Rebecca Tanner, TAC board member, “it would not have been possible for TAC to navigate the grants and challenges of preserving the farm.”
Frederick and Mary Gunther would be proud to know that the farm they created so long ago will forever be safe from development, and that the Tolland County Agricultural Center will benefit and be able to expand its educational programs for generations to come.