PIERMONT – A historic family farm well known in the Connecticut River valley for its superb artisan cheeses and humanely raised beef and pork is permanently conserved.
The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust (ACT) and The Trust for Public Land announced the completion of the conservation of the 150-acre Robie Farm, located on a beautiful stretch of the Connecticut River, just south of Piermont village. Pastoral fields dotted with dairy cows sweep down from NH Route 10 to the river.
“This place undoubtedly would have become a trophy home site, or sites, if not for conservation,” said ACT Executive Director Rebecca Brown.
Farm owners Lee and Betty Sue Robie live and work on the land with their sons Freeman and Mark. Their grandchildren, Eli and Lisette, mark the seventh generation to grow up on the farm.
“We wanted to make the farm viable for the next generation,” said Betty Sue Robie. “We want it to be a working farm that is a productive source of food and fiber forever.”
With small dairy farms all over New England going under because of the pressure of low milk prices and high costs, the Robies several years ago decided to diversify their business and respond to the fast growing interest in local food. Instead of selling only milk, they started producing artisanal cheese, humanely raised beef, pork, and veal, and raw milk. Their products are carried in over 50 markets and restaurants as well as their own farm store. Their cheeses and meats are often featured at Molly’s and the Canoe Club in Hanover.
“We were pleased to assist the Robie Family and the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust with the preservation of this farm. Our hope is that the Robie Farm can use the proceeds of the easement sale to retire debt, invest in their business and maintain a source of local foods in the Connecticut River valley” said Rodger Krussman, The Trust for Public Land’s New Hampshire State director.
The Robie Farm is situated in an area that is home to wildlife and dynamic ecosystems. Along the riverfront there are silver maple floodplain forests, an important ecosystem that accommodates flooding and stabilizes the riverbanks from erosion. Federally endangered dwarf wedge mussels live in the riverbed.
ACT was initially approached about the project by The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit conservation organization with a mission of “conserving land for people.” The Trust for Public Land brings expertise in real estate, law, finance and fundraising, but does not hold land or conservation easements over the long term. The Robies needed a conservation partner like ACT to that shared their vision for their farm, understood the complexities of conserving a working farm, and was flexible in considering new uses like agri-tourism.
“It was love at first sight,” said Betty Sue recalling when she first met the ACT team. “ACT understood what we wanted to do and how we wanted to run our farm business.”
“Our work is about forming relationships with people, and honoring the long-term vision they have for their land,” said Brown. “Creating a conservation agreement takes time and attention to detail, flexibility and creativity.”
ACT now holds the permanent agreement, called a conservation easement, on the property. The easement stipulates that the conserved land will not be developed, but encourages its use for farming and forestry, and recreation. A canoe campsite may be established on the riverbank, for instance.
In an important new role for a New Hampshire land trust, ACT also brought farm business expertise to the Robies through its partnership with the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund. ACT and the Loan Fund are working together with several North Country farms on ensuring that the farm businesses are thriving, as well as the farm land being conserved for the future. Business technical assistance includes financial management, debt consolidation, and marketing.
“Conserving farm land is a key tool in agricultural economics,” said Brown. “Farm owners can be paid for the development rights on their land. How they use that cash to strengthen their business is where the NH Community Loan Fund brings its expertise. Our two organization work together with the farmers to ensure that the business and the conservation interests are each served and support each other.”
The land conservation and farm business building collaboration between ACT, the Robies, and the Community Loan Fund is a potential model for other farms in the state, added Brown. The Russell Foundation and USDA Rural Development have supported ACT in this pioneering approach to farmland conservation.
The Trust for Public Land managed the project for the complex Robie endeavor and led the fund raising and real estate due diligence. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service assisted with agricultural planning. NRCS was also a major funder through its Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program. NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
This project was also supported in part by funds from the sale of the Conservation License Plates (Moose Plate) through the NH State Conservation Committee grant program. Funding was also contributed by the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, NH Charitable Foundation, as well as other private individuals and foundations.
You can visit the Robie Farm store just south of Piermont village to sample their cheese, buy raw milk, cheese, eggs, meats, and bacon, and locally made jams and jellies, as well as Betty Sue’s fresh made bread.
To learn more about The Trust for Public Land and our work to conserve land for people, please visit www.tpl.org