CORNISH, NH—The Upper Valley Land Trust, with assistance from New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and the Town of Cornish, has purchased a conservation easement on the 165-acre Fitch Farm, a grass-fed beef and tree farm. Sitting atop Dingleton Hill, the farm is central to the scenic landscape that inspired artists of the Cornish Colony in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and which continues to draw visitors and photographers today. In the Fitch family since the 1770′s, it is one of Cornish’s last remaining intact farms, providing a deep connection to the past. As a community-defining landscape, the protection of Fitch Farm was a high priority of the Conservation Commission and received a sizable grant from the state’s LCHIP fund due to its significant cultural and natural resource values.
“We are thrilled to be able to help the people of Cornish and the Fitch family to realize this longstanding conservation goal,” says Jeanie McIntyre, Upper Valley Land Trust President. The land includes 38 acres of open land and 125 acres in forest, all bounded by stone walls, plus 2-5 acres of water features, including ponds, brooks, and wetlands. A dairy until 1966, the Fitch Farm has been farmed by the Fitch family for eight generations. In this time, the landscape of the farm with its historic and scenic attributes has changed very little.
The Fitches raise Highland cattle, maintain a working forest and sugar bush (with a horse team), and operate a small portable saw mill on the farm. The forested portion of the farm received Tree Farm status in 1959, making it one of the State’s first Tree Farms.
The town has identified the Fitch Farm as a “keystone property,” ranking it among the highest conservation priorities. In the words of the Cornish Conservation Commission, “the Fitch Farm plays a vital role in the wildlife/conservation corridor extending from Yatsevitch Forest to the Connecticut River.” The conservation of the Fitch Farm will help link other conserved land in a greenway from west to east across Cornish. The conservation easement will ensure that the farm remains free from development and damaging land use practices that might degrade important agricultural, scenic and wildlife resources.
Colleen O’Neill, of Cornish, gave her support for the use of town funds to assist in the conservation of the Fitch property, “Open land is an endangered resource with all the pressures of development. Here in Cornish, we have the lasting legacy of those who have had the vision of conserving/preserving land, open fields and wooded forests, as well as breathtaking vistas. We are all the richer for it and the benefits will outlive us. Generations to come will be most grateful for what we do now in terms of land conservation.”
The Fitch project is an outgrowth of a broader conservation effort, the Cornish Art Colony Conservation and Historic Preservation Project, which was initiated in 2001. This project resulted in the protection of several Cornish Art Colony properties, and was initiated by community members working together with the Upper Valley Land Trust, supported by grants from Save America’s Treasures, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Trustees of Saint-Gaudens Memorial, and numerous others. In addition, the Fitch Farm project satisfies all seven attributes for a high priority conservation project as identified by the Cornish Conservation Commission’s recently drafted Conservation Plan and is consistent with the Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Regional Plan.
Check out this new video put together by the Vermont Land Trust!
UVLT and its partners, including the Vermont Land Trust, VHCB and the Nature Conservancy have teamed up to demonstrate the importance of conservation to the state of Vermont. State funding for the upcoming fiscal year’s conservation work in Vermont may be frozen, if Governor Douglas’s proposed 2009 budget is passed. In addition, state funding for LCHIP in New Hampshire is also at risk right now.
Ways to demonstrate your support of conservation include:
Tom and Becky Loftus make award-winning cheese in the hills of Vermont. In December, the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) purchased a conservation easement on the 35 acres that make up Blythedale Farm, Inc. This was made possible through grants from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Protection program. The agreement had the effect of enabling Blythedale Farm to expand and to continue Vermont’s tradition of artisan cheese-making into the future.
Though the farm has been producing gourmet quality cheese for over 10 years, the Loftus’ have owned and operated the business since 2004. They bought the property and cheese-making operation after working on the farm and learning the trade from the previous owner. They hand-ladle all their cheeses and use only whole milk from their 60 Jersey cows. The soft cheeses they make, Brie and Camembert, require a great deal of “hands-on” care and are considered the most difficult of cheeses to make.
Blythedale’s award-winning Camembert, Gruyere, and Brie cheeses are highly sought after and are marketed throughout the U.S., even having been served at the White House! With demand for their products steadily increasing, the Loftus’s have been expanding the cheese-making operation since buying the farm.
Growing the business was risky without securing additional land. When the Loftus’s took ownership, the farm consisted of only 35 acres and relied upon over 100 acres of rented pasture and hay land to support the dairy herd. Tom and Becky sold a conservation easement in order to generate capital to purchase the land they need. “We are now able to rest comfortably knowing that we have the land base we need to support our business,” says Tom Loftus.
The grants funding the conservation project were made because of the significance of Blythedale Farm’s soil resources and management practices, and its contribution to the Vermont farm economy. Recently, the farm has received the Vermont Quality Milk Award for being in the top 2% of milk producers statewide. This award is granted to Vermont milk producers who practice sound animal husbandry and maintain the cleanliness of their cows, as well as the cleanliness and maintenance of their milking and milk storage equipment. In addition to providing a site for milk and cheese production, the farm consists of a half mile of road frontage, over 75% open farmland with approximately 80% prime and statewide significant agricultural soils, along with native grasses managed without tillage.
The Castanea Foundation, a private organization working to increase the number of economically viable and environmentally sustainable farms in Vermont and New York, assisted with the acquisition and conservation of additional land known as “the South Branch parcel” which has now been brought into Blythedale Farm ownership.
The conservation of Blythedale Farm and the South Branch parcel protects a viable piece of Vermont’s rural character and agricultural industry. The farm sits in the heart of Cookeville village amidst historic buildings including the Town Offices and Academy Building. Recent residential construction in the immediate vicinity of the Blythedale Farm indicated that farmland was potentially at risk for development. Tom Loftus says, “We arrived here because we bought the cheese business and we found OCHP [Orange County Headwaters Project] along with some of our neighbors to be active in land conservation. Conservation is something we believe in and wanted to be a part of.” Now, the Loftus’ open pasture forms the scenic backdrop to a “classic” Vermont village and sets the stage for good things to come.
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