Woodbridge group in race to save historic Baldwin Road Farm
Efforts to save scenic Baldwin Road Farm from being used for light industrial or commercial purposes are in high gear, as Woodbridge Land Trust has set its own Labor Day deadline to raise remaining funds to buy the development rights under the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.
Buying the development rights — or agricultural conservation easement — would mean the family who owns the historic nearly 350-year old farm would retain ownership, but the land would have to be used for agricultural purposes and couldn’t be developed or subdivided.
Under the program’s formula — individualized for each property the program serves — the state would pay 75 percent of the development rights cost for Baldwin Road Farm to the owners and the land trust would pay 25 percent.
The Land Trust’s piece comes to about $170,000 as of now — $30,000 less than they thought when they launched fundraising in March. They have raised about $120,000, meaning there is $50,000 left to raise. They hope to reach the goal by Sept. 3.
The 86-acre farm at 902 Baldwin Road has “rolling hills, stone walls, wetlands, and abundant wildlife,” according to a gofundme account on the land trust website.
The farm, now being used to grow hay, is located at the intersection of Greenway and Baldwin roads and passersby get a good look at it because there is coincidentally a stop sign in either direction in front of the farm. Cows were raised at the family owned farm until the late 1980s.
Land Trust president Bryan Pines, who grew up in Woodbridge, said he’s loved driving by the spot his whole life and seeing it today, “brings back memories of the farm as it was.”
“To be a part of preserving it is an honor,” he said, noting it’s difficult for farms to survive these days and people still want fresh produce and other farm products.
Land Trust officer Cathy Wick said she grew up in Litchfield County, rich in open space and that was part of what attracted her to Woodbridge 20 years ago.
“I’d like to preserve and protect it,” Wick said of the farm. “Local food is good for people and climate change.”
Cynthia Anger, also a Land Trust officer, lives near the farm and drives by it every day. The “beauty of the landscape,” is what drew them to Woodbridge — and the farm is a key part of that, Anger said.
“It was a beautiful portal to Woodbridge,” she said. “I came to appreciate the abundance of wildlife.”
Wick and Anger are co-chairwomen of the fundraising committee.
According to the organization’s website, “The Woodbridge Land Trust has a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy an agricultural conservation easement that will forever protect the Farm from development and ensure that it will only be used for agriculture.”
Under the state program, the land would remain privately owned and the property would remain on the tax rolls.
Pines said the family who owns the farm, Robert and Suzanne Hitchcock, are not interested in commenting on their application, but longtime Woodbridge Land Trust member Jim Urbano said through email that it’s important to acknowledge the Hitchcocks and their extended family because, “If they didn’t recognize the importance of saving that farmland, we’d see another subdivision there instead of a classic New England landscape. That farm will forever produce for the good of the community because of the Hitchcock family’s foresight and wisdom.”
Jason Bowsza, chief of staff for Connecticut Department of Agriculture, said the program is intended to ensure important farmland “remains available for agricultural perspective in perpetuity.”
Under the Farmland Preservation Program, the state has a goal of preserving 130,000 acres of prime farmland, determined by a soil designation set by the National Resource Conservation Service, he said. As of today the program has preserved more than 43,500 acres, Bowsza said .
Under the program, the farm is appraised for the unrestricted market value and the market agricultural value, the difference between the two indicating the value of the development rights, according to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website.
Bowsza would not disclose the amount the state might pay — although one could deduce it from the Land Trust portion — because he said the sale is still under negotiation.
“The main objective of the program is to establish a food-and-fiber producing land resource base, consisting mainly of prime and important farmland soils, that will ensure local availability of fresh farm products and help agriculture to remain an important part of the state’s economy,” the website states.
The voluntary program is a rigorous one, Bowsza said, and involves scoring the soil quality, surveying the land and negotiating a sale price with the owner.
Bowsza said the percentages to be paid by the state and group or individual vary, as they are case by case. Bowsza said he does not have information specifically on the Baldwin Road Farm case.
The website states the program assists the public and agricultural communities by:
“Preserving the best and most productive agricultural land; providing an opportunity for farmers to purchase land at affordable prices; helping farm owners overcome estate planning problems which often result in farmland loss; providing working capital to enable farm operations to become more financially stable; addressing other personal ownership problems, such as health and age, which contribute to the likelihood of land being converted to non-agricultural uses; providing a range of community amenities including its curious blend of serenity and industry.”
According to a history of the farm on the Woodbridge Land Trust website, under the heading, “Stewards of the Land — then and now,”:
“The hayfield is part of a larger tract of land that the Baldwin family purchased in 1660 from the Paugussett Indians. The original parcel contained approximately 640 acres. The original family homestead, located at 908 Baldwin Road was destroyed by fire; however, the family subsequently constructed a new home at 901 Baldwin Road, located at the intersection of Greenway and Baldwin Roads. Later generations of the family also lived at 908 and 920 Baldwin Road. At one time, the Baldwin family was the largest landowner in Woodbridge.
In 1947, the Hitchcock family purchased the property and built a home at 912 Baldwin Road. The family owns the property to this day and although they stopped farming it in 1980, the Lockyer family raised heifers and maintained the land until 1987. The Hine family of Field View farm now harvests hay and maintains the property.”
Woodbridge Land Trust officials say they are heartened by the community response and generosity of donors so far.
They have received nice donations, land trust officials said, from organizations such as Woodbridge Park Association, Amity Woodbridge Historical Society, Massaro Farm, Garden Club of Woodbridge, Rotary Club of Woodbridge and from many individuals ranging from $10 to $5,000. They said no donation is too small, as it all adds up.
Urbano also said in an email that “Elisabeth Moore and the Connecticut Farmland Trust have been a stalwart ally of the Woodbridge Land Trust in the six-year quest to save the farm.”
“The degree of community support has been inspiring and overwhelming,” Anger said.
To make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.woodbridgelandtrust.org or mail donations to Woodbridge Land Trust, PO Box 3699, Woodbridge, Ct., 06525.
For questions, they can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org