A Farm Is a Farm, Except When It Isn’t

Many of these properties have been converted to lawns or, in some cases, horse riding facilities

Farmers and their advocates have for some time lamented a trend here in which publicly preserved land is lost from crop production. Though readers might not know it, many pass examples every day — places where development rights were sold years ago to the town or county with the expectation that the site remain agricultural. In the present-day reality of big-bucks South Fork real estate, however, many of these properties have been converted to lawns or, in some cases, horse riding facilities.

It would have been difficult at the time for planners and preservationists to have foreseen what happened; they assumed that simply blocking residential development would ensure that farming would survive in a given spot. Now, as a result, there has been discussion of whether government should go back to property owners with financial offers to secure more rights. This could be a tough sell with taxpayers, who might well ask why they are being tapped a second time when the land is already preserved. This calls for greater outreach.

One thing we have noticed is that the trails and birding people are running laps around the food producers in the public relations game. On any given weekend, for example, you could choose from a number of free guided hikes, or go see seals, learn about birds or trees or sea life, or hear about history.

Despite the fact that most of us eat three times a day, every day, it is easier to interact with the region’s wild lands than its farms. If there is going to be a renewed effort to make sure farming continues here, greater interaction between food producers and consumers must be part of the equation — and we’re talking about more than a quick conversation at a Saturday market.

To toss out a few ideas, it has seemed to us that even such simple steps as signs along roadsides explaining what crops are in the ground would help. So, too, would more opportunities for people to physically interact with farmland, perhaps on trails that skirt the corner of a field or places where one could stop to take in the view. There are fund-raising open houses and open gardens, so why not a similar open farms day? As it turns out, several of the community-supported agriculture operations here welcome visitors, but that is not generally known.

There are undoubtedly plenty of ways to bridge the gap between producers and plates. They should be explored, particularly if the pool of public generosity is to be drawn from once again.