Bethlehem to spend $3M to protect 300 acres of farmland

— Map from the town of Bethlehem

The town of Bethlehem is purchasing two farms: the 153-acre Heath Dairy Farm at top and the 153-acre farm, below, which is split by the New York State Thruway into two parcels of 122 acres and 31 acres.

BETHLEHEM — This rapidly developing suburban town, next to the state’s capital, plans to protect 300 acres of farmland from two farms that have been operating since the Revolutionary War.

 On June 8, the Bethlehem Town Board approved an agreement for the purchase, according to a release from the town, which noted town-wide support for farmland preservation in meetings the town has recently held to update its comprehensive land-use plan.

The properties being purchased have been appraised at $4 million; however, the seller, Milltowne Plaza Inc., agreed to sell the lands for $3 million, the release said. The town will draw $2 million from its Farms and Forests Fund to cover two-thirds of the cost while the remaining funds will come from capital accounts.

The vote to approve the option agreement draws $30,000 from the Farms and Forests Fund to begin the process of due diligence on the parcels, including environmental assessments.

The fund was established in 2019 to help interested landowners keep farms, forests, and fields in Bethlehem.

Eight of the nine parcels currently are actively farmed, the release said, which the town plans to continue. Town Historian Susan Leath traced farming at the Heath Dairy Farm back 250 years, and believes the land has been cultivated even longer.

“Farms are part of Bethlehem’s culture and landscape,” said Bethlehem Supervisor David VanLuven in the release. “We are committed to working in partnership with interested landowners to keep our farms growing crops and food rather than subdivisions, and I am so proud of the work of our great town staff and the commitment of the town board to keep these lands in agriculture for another 250 years.”

“So often the desire to preserve important landscapes is expressed in plans and meetings while development marches on,” said Mark King, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy Executive director, in the release. “Bethlehem is turning intentions into action. The Hudson Valley has a rich agricultural and natural history that faces unprecedented pressures. We hope other communities will adopt programs like the Farms and Forest Fund and Conservation Easement Program to address this critical issue.”

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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