County and town governments have teamed up with the state to keep the 118-acre , located in the towns of Cortlandt and Yorktown, protected from being developed.
After five years of negotiations, Westchester County officials signed an agreement with the farm’s owner, John DeMaria, last month to purchase the conservation easement for the land, which is within the Croton Reservoir watershed. The contract prevents development on the land – allowing operation of the farm and protection of the watershed long into the future.
"A sizable New York State grant allowed the county, Yorktown and Cortlandt to combine resources and purchase the conservation easement," County Executive Robert P. Astorino said. "This protects our drinking water supply and preserves one of a diminishing number of privately owned operational farms in Westchester."
Hemlock Hill Farm is the first property in Westchester to receive funding through the Farmland Protection Implementation Grant Program of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. State funding in the amount of $2 million provided the major portion of the total $2.7 million value of the easement. The county contributed $341,250 and each of the towns gave $170,625 to protect the Farm.
Hemlock Hill Farm has been in operation since 1939. In the course of the 45 years that DeMaria has owned the farm, he has worked closely with the Watershed Agricultural Council, the public-private agency that advises farm owners on environmental improvements that help to protect the drinking water supply of New York City and portions of Westchester.
“This is a clear example of county government working together with our local municipalities and New York State to benefit the taxpayer by a continuation of protecting farmland, preserving the open space and enhancing the quality of life,” said County Legislator John Testa of Peekskill.
Yorktown Supervisor Susan Siegel said the town is happy the state funding has been approved to protect the property.
"Hemlock Hills is a rare and wonderful example of Yorktown and Cortlandt’s agricultural heritage," she said. "I’m glad that working together, we are able to preserve it."
Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi thanked former Gov. George Pataki, whose administration had negotiated this deal in its closing days.
"This is another way that local, county and state levels of government can work together for the betterment of the community," she said.
The Town of Cortlandt will preserve 90 acres of this land for open space preservation and 10 acres for the De Maria family to continue farming as they have for 50 years, she said.
"Protecting our town's natural beauty and open space, such as Hemlock Farm, has been and continues to be one of Yorktown's greatest priorities," Yorktown Councilman Terrence Murphy said. "While we continue to develop Northern Westchester to provide jobs for our neighbors it becomes equally as necessary to protect our open space and natural resources."
The farm, open to the public, allows residents to experience and learn about agriculture first hand. Its fresh local farm products (chickens, beef, pork, lamb, Italian sausages, smoked bacon, eggs, cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream and honey) can be purchased from its market, which is open seven days a week.
The preservation of Hemlock Hill as a working farm is one of the county's efforts to protect farmland:
- The county formed an Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board in 1999 and adopted an Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan in 2004.
- In 2003, the county acquired Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown and established an Environmental Resource Center to provide education and training on sustainable living practices.
- In April, at the initiative of the Astorino administration, the county’s Board of Acquisition and Contract approved a three-year agreement with Friends of Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center for the use of that property for farming, environmental programs and fundraising. The goal is to give the non-profit Friends group three years to make the farm self-sufficient.
- The county’s Muscoot Farm Park, a working interpretive farm and park in Somers, has received national awards, including a Heritage Advocate Award this year from the Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services for its efforts to educate the public about the risks to and the protection and care of historic collections.