This is the sixth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of environmental work in Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.”
In this post we would like to highlight the importance of farmland in Westchester County, as per our theme for this month’s E-News. This article, written by Gudrun “Goodie” LeLash our then Executive Director, cites the need to preserve a local farm on the Cortlandt/Yorktown border called Hemlock Hill Farm and owned by the DeMaria family. The call to action was a success and today Hemlock Hill Farm is able to provide its community with farm-fresh products. Visit their website at http://www.hemlockhillfarm.com.
“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 96 No. 2 – March & April 1996
Farmland in Westchester?
By Gudrun LeLash, FCWC Executive Director 1996
It may be hard to believe, but vestiges of the county’s rural heritage still exist. However, one of Westchester’s few remaining farms is threatened with foreclosure, and New York City may be the only entity that can preserve it.
The DeMaria Farm, “Hemlock Hill,” situated on a scenic hilltop straddling the Cortlandt/Yorktown border, is in grave jeopardy. With the help of Westchester Land Trust a conservation plan has been proposed to the owners, the mortgage holders and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. It would involve DEP acquisition of the land through its watershed protection program. The DeMarias would use the proceeds for settling outstanding debts and as working capital for the farm.
About half the farm’s roughly 120 acres is in active agricultural use. The rest is wooded buildable land, although some areas are steep, rocky or wet. The land drains into Hunter Brook which runs directly into nearby Croton Reservoir. The farm is one of just a few large parcels comprising the Hunter Brook drainage area and has been a top property conservation site for over 20 years. Efforts to develop a greenway along Hunter Brook are being renewed by the Westchester Land Trust.
It is urgent that the DEP make a commitment soon since foreclosure would result in a Sheriff’s sale of the farm and eviction of the DeMarias within the next couple months. If the lenders gain title to the farm, it will undoubtedly be developed. Time is of the essence.
The DEP has visited the DeMaria Farm but has not committed to its protection. However, County Executive O’Rourke has urged the DEP to pursue acquisition of the land’s development rights. The Watershed Agricultural Council, set up as a watershed farm assistance bureau, funded by the DEP and Cornell, has shown interest in helping the DeMarias develop a watershed-sensitive farm plan that also makes financial sense.
This would be a wonderful opportunity to save a farm, create a greenbelt and demonstrate environmentally sound farming.