An innovative Hudson Valley project may soon have a storied parcel of farmland producing new farmers in addition to fruits and vegetables.
At the end of December 2013, the NoVo Foundation—run by Warren Buffett’s son Peter and his wife Jennifer—announced that it had purchased Gill Farm, a 75-year-old family-run vegetable operation covering more than 1,200 acres, for $13 million.
The Foundation intends to eventually transfer the property to an independent nonprofit organization that will operate it as a “farm hub”—a center dedicated to sustainable agriculture, farmer training, and related services.
Stemming the Tide of Development
Located just 100 miles from New York City in the town of Hurley, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub aims to become a regional farming center for sustainable agriculture by offering training and other services, all with the goal of preserving valuable farmland and educating a new generation of growers.
The need for such a project is great: The American Farmland Trust figures show that New York has been losing farmland at a rate equivalent to one farm every 3½ days. In fact, the Hudson Valley’s core counties—Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester—lost more than 10,000 farms and more than one million farm acres between 1950 and 2007, according to federal statistics.
The new Farm Hub will offer beginning and established farmers a range of resources, including:
- Hands-on training in sustainable farming practices to meet modern-day challenges;
- Marketing assistance to help grow their businesses;
- Information on cutting-edge practices and technologies that promote resilient agriculture;
- Assistance with secure and affordable access to land; and
- Expanded access to capital to establish and expand their farming operations.
A central part of the program will be the creation of “incubator farms,” plots ranging from three to 20 acres to be worked by new farmers without the pressures of finding and investing in affordable land.
Making the Transition
While excitement for the project, which could eventually be the largest incubator project in the country, is running high, there are lingering concerns among Hudson Valley residents about its scale and impact.
While the Hub aims to eventually turn out new local farmers and business owners, there will be some immediate job losses—up to 100 migrant workers who found employment at Gill Farm will be displaced by this transition.
Other established farmers have expressed concern about changes to the grower community created by an influx of young farmers, and the ability for existing growers to compete with a flood of “foundation-supported” vegetables.
Bob Dandrew, a representative for the project, tried to address some of these concerns at a December press conference. “We know in New York City alone, there is unmet demand for local food of more than $1 billion a year. I’m convinced if we do it right, we can help our farmers get access to that market and make really great things happen, ” said Dandrew. Assistance in developing a cohesive marketing strategy will be part of the incubator process.
It also helps that John Gill, the farm’s current owner and life-long Ulster County resident, will be involved in the transition of the property from private farm to education and research center and will remain in the position of Farm Manager.
“It’s always been important to me that our farm remains a working farm – this way I can preserve my grandfather’s and my father’s legacy,” said Gill at the press event. “I’m really happy that I’ll be involved in the next chapter, and to know that the farm will always remain viable and help prepare future generations of farmers.”
Master planning for the new Farm Hub will begin in early 2014 and programs are slated to begin operations on-site by the spring of 2015.