PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission (ALPC), in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS), the Block Island Land Trust, and The Nature Conservancy, announce the preservation of Payne Farm on Block Island.
The Agricultural Land Preservation Program has acquired development rights to 42 acres of the 50-acre farm, which is located on Payne Road near the center of the island. Seventeen acres are actively farmed by Cathy Payne and in use for vegetable production, sheep, and chickens. The remainder of the farm consists of bayberry brush land and includes about three acres of wetlands. More than 79 percent of the site consists of prime and important farmlands. Improvements to the farm include two greenhouses and deer fencing.
Payne Farm is one of the last significant parcels of unprotected land and one of just a handful of working farms on Block Island. It sits in the heart of 115 acres of existing protected land consisting of key habitat and watershed land that drains to the Great Salt Pond. Together with Payne Farm, this area represents 2.5% of the Island – a significant conservation achievement. Because of its size and location, the farm has been a high priority for conservation for over 30 years.
"What an amazing achievement -- the preservation of beautiful Payne Farm safeguards working farmland and precious habitat for ever more," noted DEM Director Janet Coit. "I applaud the tremendous collaborative effort, involving private and public partners, which made it possible to celebrate the successful conservation of this valuable agricultural and environmental resource. This project represents a huge stride forward in the conservation effort on Block Island."
Terry Sullivan, Rhode Island State Director for The Nature Conservancy said, "Once again the Block Island community, with tremendous help from the state and USDA, has stepped up to protect a critically important property. Payne Farm is an iconic landscape that provides local foods to Block Islanders and contains the headwaters of the freshwater stream that flows into the Great Salt Pond. By conserving this land, we also protect the salt pond. A conservation "two-for" that all Rhode Islanders can celebrate!"
R. Phou Vongkhamdy, State Conservationist of the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) said, "It is a pleasure to be a part of the protection of the Payne Farm in New Shoreham, RI. This was made possible through the utilization of funds from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protections Program (FRPP). It is through the leverage of FRPP funds and resources from multiple entity participants that allows for the continued efforts to protect farm land from being lost to development. This is especially important during the current economic climate. I would also like to specifically thank the Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission (ALPC) for their efforts with this endeavor."
Barbara MacMullen, Chair of the Block Island Land Trust, said "The Block Island Land Trust is pleased to participate in the preservation of Payne Farm. This area of Block Island has long been a priority for conservation and we are proud to partner with the State, the NRCS, and the Nature Conservancy in protecting this valuable open space."
The total purchase price for the development rights to Payne Farm was $4.1 million. The USDA provided $2,282,500 in federal funding for the project, through a grant from its Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Additional funding included $725,000 from the Block Island Land Trust, $392,500 from The Nature Conservancy, $400,000 from a Local Open Space Grant, and $300,000 from the RI Agricultural Land Preservation Commission.
The Rhode Island Congressional Delegation weighed in with support for this project, writing to Jason Weller, Chief of the NRCS. Cathy Payne, her Attorney Thomas A. Tarro III and land development consultant Michael Integlia Jr. are especially appreciative of U.S. Senator Jack Reed and his staff and Paul Brule, State Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency, for their assistance in making her dream to preserve Payne Farm for future generations a reality.
In addition, Governor Chafee spoke directly to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA, to press for a successful resolution in a tight time crunch. "We are so appreciative of the support of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation and the personal involvement of Governor Chafee," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Rhode Island's senior elected officials really went to bat to help conserve this farm. This has been a long and complicated effort, and the spirit and fortitude of Ms. Payne and our funding partners were critical to the successful conservation outcome."
Rhode Island has some of the most expensive farmland in the nation, and without public programs to acquire development rights, many farmers would not be able to keep their land and maintain their businesses. Farms to which the state acquires development rights are working farms that remain in private ownership. The easements require that the lands remain in agriculture or in a condition available for agricultural use in perpetuity. The agriculture industry in Rhode Island -- totaling over 1,200 farms that directly generate $170 million annually -- is not only an integral part of the state's economy but provides a valuable contribution to Rhode Island's open space and quality of life. Beyond fresh produce, nursery stock, and Rhode Island's own Rhody Fresh milk, agriculture contributes to tourism, open space, landscaping businesses, and a variety of food-related industries. In addition, our viable agriculture businesses help to create jobs and keep arable land in production. The state has a growing number of farmers' markets and other retail venues and collaborative efforts to bring locally-grown food to market in Rhode Island.
DEM Director Coit noted that the preservation of Payne Farm furthers DEM's policy of supporting viable farms, preserving watersheds, expanding conservation lands, and protecting habitat on a statewide basis for the benefit for present and future generations.
In the past 30 years, with state bond funds and federal funds, and in concert with partners including municipalities, land trusts, and non-profit agencies, the state has purchased development rights to 96 farms in Rhode Island, totaling 6,830 acres. There are 37 farms currently on the Agricultural Land Preservation Commission's waiting list.