Democrat File Photo
A VIEW OF the Kays' Farm in the Beechwoods. County planners are concerned about preserving farmland.
Planners seeking farmers' input
By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY It’s a major part of the county’s past, and a vital part of today’s economy. But how can Sullivan County save its farms without the farmers?
Simply put, it can’t be done.
That’s why the Sullivan County Division of Planning is putting special emphasis on a raft of surveys sent out to local farms and agri-businesses to collect their input for a four-township farmland preservation plan.
Funded courtesy of two grants from the New York State Department of Ag and Markets, one each to Callicoon and Delaware and Liberty and Bethel, the project is being put together along with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy.
The state awarded the grants to the municipalities separately, but bringing them all together will allow for a more regional look at the future of farmland.
Figures from the extension show agricultural products in the county contributed $78.2 million toward the local economy last year alone. Estimates say that each dollar generated by farms in the county turns over three times in the community, putting the total economic impact closer to $234.6 million.
“Farming is such a major economic driver for the county, but it’s also a big part of the rural character,” explained Jill Weyer, a senior planner for the county.
Weyer is working on the county’s end of facilitating the townships’ farmland preservation plan.
Her department sent out surveys to 240 property owners with a farm exemption in the towns of Callicoon and Delaware, another 177 to Liberty and Bethel.
They were hoping to have all 417 back by Nov. 18, but the response so far has been less than 16 percent.
The numbers weren’t much greater for agribusinesses. Of 106 sent to businesses in the region (extending out of Sullivan County to merchants who deal with the county’s farmers in spots like Honesdale, Pa. and farther upstate in New York), only 28 have come back.
“We know farmers are extremely busy, and their time is precious,” Weyer acknowledged. “But it’s vital that we get their input.
“We want to know what they think, what they’re struggling with, what can help them,” she continued.
Farmers and their neighbors are also invited to take part in one of two upcoming meetings with Nan Stolzenburg, a consultant representing Community Planning and Environmental Associates, which will do the work of actually writing the new plans for the townships.
The first meeting, set for Dec. 13 at the Jeffersonville Inn, will be for residents of Callicoon and Delaware to weigh in. The second, for residents of Liberty and Bethel, has been slated for Jan. 10 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension building in Liberty.
“Anybody can show up to these, we want everyone there,” Weyer said. “Show us the good, show us the bad. We know we might get a second homeowner complaining about odor or people coming in saying ‘We want more rural character, how can we protect it?’ or asking ‘How can we get more businesses that serve farmers to move closer?’”
They want to hear from people who got out of farming, people who are still doing it, people starting to keep bees or looking to grow vegetables. Stolzenburg will be taking the ideas she gathers from the people of Sullivan County to incorporate into a plan FOR Sullivan County.
It will be available to the townships to add to their comprehensive plans or used to make zoning updates. It can be a stand-alone document, Weyer said, or adopted by the townships as amendments to current plans.
But it can’t happen without the people of Sullivan County having their say.
“Our information can only be as good as the feedback we get,” Weyer reiterated.
The meeting on Dec. 13 will begin at 10 a.m. at the Jeffersonville Inn and run until noon. A separate forum for farmers will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
The second meeting, January 10 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office will have a similar set up.
Refreshments will be served.