Before food became such a phenomena that there were magazines devoted to it, before cooking shows, way back before locavore was even a word, the potato was king in these parts. We get a glimpse of those days around this time each spring when farmers begin seeding new crops. And it is right around now when passers-by cannot help but reflect on how wonderful it is that any land is left to plow. Thanks to the devotion of a small number of local farming families, there are still people living on the East End who know how it is done. And thanks to public and private efforts, there is prime soil left to be farmed.
It was with amazing foresight that our communities agreed decades ago to find the money to pay property owners for what are called development rights. In theory, this meant that the land would be farmed in perpetuity. In some cases, the definition of agriculture was stretched beyond what the programs’ creators envisioned: tree farms, giant greenhouses, and high hedges not being exactly what was in mind.
Nonetheless, the farmland programs, which began with Suffolk County and spread to the towns, were all the more remarkable in that they were set up before the community preservation fund imposed a tax on the area’s real estate excesses. They went forward despite worries that the loss of property taxes from houses that would not be built would place an undue burden on residents. On the contrary, houses with farm-field views, especially those with west-facing sunset vistas, command a premium, and, brokers say, are an easy sell. Development rights purchases also resulted in the reduction in the potential number of residences on the East End, with the demands for public services they would have represented.
For those passing by to or from work, school, or wherever, just seeing the fields turned once again is confirmation enough that it was all worthwhile.