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Fund preserves Old Moore Farm

DUMMERSTON—Through the efforts of the Farmland Committee and the Selectboard — and anyone who pays property taxes in town — 59 acres of prime agricultural land will stay that way in perpetuity.

At their Jan. 18 regular Selectboard meeting, the Board unanimously approved the Farmland Committee’s request for $15,000 from the Farmland Protection Fund to go toward conserving the Old Moore Farm — currently owned by Michael and Peter Barrett — on Dummerston Station Road.

The purpose of the funding is to help compensate farm owners for taking their property out of development — which would ostensibly yield them a higher resale amount than selling it as agricultural land only. The owners are selling their development rights, but retaining their ownership of the property.

Farmland Committee members Diana Lischer-Goodband and Jack Manix appeared before the Board to make the request.

“This is probably one of the most important pieces of farmland in Dummerston... [and] probably some of the best land in New England,” Farmland Committee member Jack Manix told Board members. He noted the many features of the soil: Class 1A as per the U.S. Geological Survey’s soil map, river-bottom in origin, “ranked No. 1 in land evaluation assessments."

“As Albert Moore used to say [of his farm], ‘half the fertilizer, twice the yield!’” Manix said.

Decision is ‘easy and unanimous’

The farm, visible from I-91, once hosted the Dummerston “International” Airport, which ceased operations about a decade ago.

Its placement in what Manix described as “an awesome agricultural corridor,” is a notable feature and good reason for conservation, Lischer-Goodband and Manix said.

Lischer-Goodband said the decision to use the funds to help the Barretts preserve the Old Moore Farm was “easy and unanimous” among committee members — all of whom are farmers or otherwise connected to agriculture.

“It’s a beautiful, open piece” of land, and its preservation “benefits all of southern Vermont,” she said.

Through a conservation easement with the Vermont Land Trust, the 59-acre property cannot be developed or subdivided, and the easement is tied to the land, regardless of who owns it. The house on the property isn’t included in the easement, Manix said, and two acres are set aside for potential housing so a future farmer-owner could build a home there and not evict the extisting house’s tenants.

Placing this particular parcel under a conservation easement is notable because of its location in a much-debated rural commercial zone.

In 2015, the Planning Commission completed a series of changes to zoning bylaws. One district the commission considered changing was the Route 5 corridor where the Old Moore Farm is located, which is zoned as “rural commercial,” which means someone could build a supermarket or other commercial structure there if they saw fit.

Although some residents advocated for changing the zone to preserve its agricultural character, the Planning Commission chose to keep it as Rural Commercial.

“We had an especially hard time working out a compromise between interests in farmland protection and preservation of undeveloped lands, and interests in landowner rights — particularly in the commercial district along Route 5,” Planning Commission member Sam Farwell told The Commons.

“There’s not much of a market” for turning Dummerston’s portion of Route 5 into something resembling Brattleboro’s Putney Road, Farwell said in response to some residents’ concerns about keeping the corridor zoned for commercial use.

Prior success with Bunker Farm

The Old Moore Farm is the second project in the Farmland Committee’s history; the first was the Bunker Farm.

Dummerston’s Farmland Committee formed about 20 years ago, after the sale of the Maple Valley ski resort brought the town a “huge windfall” in back taxes, Selectboard Chair Zeke Goodband told The Commons.

One of the beneficiaries of this largesse was the Farmland Committee, formed by a Town Meeting vote. Every year since then, Town Meeting has approved putting about $2,500 into the fund.

The Bunker Farm, which received $18,000 from the fund a few years ago, “has been a highly successful operation and [it’s] great to have that back in agriculture,” Manix told Board members.

Funding this project “symbolizes the town’s commitment to preserving agricultural land,” he said, adding it “looks good to private donors” who want to contribute to the effort.

The Farmland Committee’s “unwritten rule,” Manix said, is to give a project half of the fund’s current balance, which, before the Selectboard approved the expenditure, was about $30,000.

Board member Hugh Worden asked Lischer-Goodband and Manix about the committee’s plans for replenishing the Farmland Protection Fund once this amount is given to the Old Moore Farm project.

“That’s a committee concern,” said Lischer-Goodband, who added she is a grant writer and “we can find creative ways” to bring in money.

The committee plans to ask Town Meeting for $2,500 to put back into the fund this year, bringing the total back up to about $20,000, Zeke Goodband told The Commons.

Manix said the committee may come back to Town Meeting in the future for more funding if new projects come up, “but not now.”

“We don’t have many projects that come along in the course of the 20 years or so since we first set up this fund,” he said.

“Knowing that land will be conserved forever through the Vermont Land Trust is a rare opportunity for us,” Manix said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #394 (Wednesday, February 8, 2017). This story appeared on page C1.

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