Sunday August 26, 2012

EGREMONT -- Another 445 acres of pristine Berkshire County farmland has been dedicated to agricultural use after the state bought development rights from two multi-generational farm owners.

At a ceremony Saturday, the July 30 deal for $6.68 million was celebrated at the Baldwin Hill Farm.

Baldwin Hill Farm is owned by Richard and Priscilla Burdsall and has been in the family for more than 100 years. Next door, Proctor's Bel-Air Farm, owned by Charles and Ellen Proctor, has been in the family for 55 years.

Both farms have been actively producing food stuffs throughout those years.

The Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) and the Egremont Land Trust contributed 5 percent of the price -- roughly $360,000 -- as a local donation to the effort. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources provided the rest of the funding.

Tad Ames, president of BNRC, said the deal was years in the making, with discussions beginning in the 1990s.

He noted that part of the intention was to prevent the farms from being split up and sold off for residential or commercial development, preserving the acreage as open space. Another part of the mission is to preserve and protect an important source of locally grown food.

"This program is designed to preserve the best farms in Massachusetts, and Baldwin Hill is certainly among them," Ames said.

Now complete, the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) requires that the land be dedicated to agricultural uses.


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"These farms are both beautiful and highly productive," said Narain Schroeder, director of land conservation at the BNRC. "With increasing demand for local products, a resurgence of farming and a shortage of available farm land, the preservation of Baldwin Hill will be more important with each passing year."

Schroeder noted that both families "generously" agreed to sell the development rights at prices significantly lower than the land's appraised value.

The local contributions to the price of the APR came from a variety of 400 local sources, including an anonymous foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation and a number of private donors.

Richard Burdsall, 78, said his grandfather (also named Richard Burdsall) bought the Baldwin Hill Farm in 1911 as a second home. He made sure it was a working farm throughout his years, a commitment carried out by Burdsall's father, and one that was passed down to him.

"He kept it running because it produced food, created jobs, created a need for supplies, and was an important part of the community," Burdsall said.

He said he finds comfort in knowing the farmland will be preserved.

"As a child growing up here, I became very connected to the land," Burdsall said. "It's hard to explain the emotional connection -- my grandfather used to say you don't own the land. The land owns you."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford