Preserving Meetinghouse Hill

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Scott Lent's 2014 four minute drone video of Meetinghouse Hill.
It can be expanded to full screen for viewing.

ConnecticutHistory.org, a project of Connecticut Humanities, has this entry under 'Agriculture.'

Connecticut's agricultural roots date back to the crop gardens planted by indigenous peoples who cultivated such staples as the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash), sunflowers, and Jerusalem artichokes.

European settlers brought their own land-use practices, such as clearing large tracts of land for crops and grazing livestock, and learned new techniques from the region's Natives. By the late 18th century farming was an economic mainstay for most residents, but by the middle of the 19th century the rise of industry changed the state's agrarian landscape to an industrial one.

Farmland acreage and the number of farms in the state steadily declined well into the 21st century, with recent tallies showing fewer than 5,000 farms. There is, however, a renewed interest in local farming and today's small farms produce dairy, eggs, tobacco, fruits, and vegetables that contribute to the state's economy.

The history of farming in Vernon is similar to that of the state, however, Vernon has lost more of its farmland than surrounding towns and may soon lose what little remains.

As the mills of Dobsonville, Talcottville and Rockville grew during the Eighteenth Century Vernon's farmlands were little impacted and indeed local farms found a ready market in feeding hungry mill workers. It was the highway through Vernon in the 1940's that would change the face of our town as developers began transforming Vernon into a bedroom community for Hartford.

Farmers became developers or sold their land to developers before communities developed plans for the heritage we wanted to leave to our children and grandchildren. Vernon gave up more of its agricultural land and open space than our neighboring towns of South Windsor, Ellington, Tolland, Coventry and Bolton.

As communities once again embrace their agricultural heritage with local Farmers' Markets and community gardens, and young families learn the value of eating healthy and local Vernon has to preserve what little agricultural land remains.

Preserving Strong Farm Pastures

Campaign to Save the Strong Farm Pastures

Please help!

$150,000 Goal

 Checks can be made out to CT Farmland Trust, Inc. and sent to:

Friends VF/CT Farmland Trust
PO Box 2008
Vernon, CT 06066

Your donation is tax deductible!

Vernon has three heritage farms remaining – Strong, Clark and Driggs farms. The largest of these is the Strong Farm, an iconic and visible presence in Vernon Center.

The desire to preserve Strong Farm has been expressed by Vernon residents in numerous meetings over the years, especially during the process of updating Vernon's Plan of Conservation and Development. That document states that "…the Strong Farm keeps the connection to the past, strongly contributes to the character of Vernon Center, and contributes to the local economy."

Beef Cattle At Meetinghouse Hill
Bringing in the hay.

The Strong Farm is divided into three separate pieces of land: two pastures, and an 8-acre parcel on West Street with the house and yellow barns.

When Norman Strong passed in 2010, the parcel with the house and barns was left to his wife. Many of the farming activities that were done in the past continue on through dedicated volunteers who organized a non-profit organization, the Strong Family Farm, Inc. The non-profit does not hold any ownership rights, but it encourages the community to learn about and participate in local farming activities.

The two pastures were left to an entity called the Strong Family Limited Partnership, LLP. One pasture is an 18-acre field across from Garden Barn on West Street, and the second pasture is a 33-acre field on Hartford Turnpike, also called Meetinghouse Hill.

The two pastures are comprised of prime farmland soils and are leased to local farmers for hay and corn crops and cattle grazing. Because of their central location and highway access, the two parcels were also under heavy development pressure – and the entity voted to sell the parcels. Developers began making offers. Zoned as residential land, it was only a matter of time before these last two fields would be covered with housing.

Beef Cattle At Meetinghouse Hill
Can we stay?

Acting quickly, concerned local citizens came together to preserve the fields. Guided by members of Vernon's Open Space Task Force and the Connecticut Farmland Trust, Inc., the group started down the long road to saving the fields. Most immediately, the land needed to be purchased and taken off the market. They knew that state and federal grant funding was available, but that process would take time – time they didn't have. Immediate purchase was no easy task. Based on two "yellow book" appraisals, the land was valued at $1,000,000!

The group formed Meetinghouse Hill LLC, and cobbled together sufficient loaned funds, some from their own retirement funds, to make the purchase. Working with CT Farmland Trust, Inc., grant applications were made to Connecticut's Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, and to the US Department of Agriculture.

Because of the high quality of the farm soils on the pastures, and the dwindling arable farmland in Connecticut, the grants received high scoring and awards totaling $900,000! Connecticut Farmland Trust will hold the development rights to the farmland, and the property will be preserved forever as agricultural land. Per federal requirements, the public will have access to the parcels on designated areas of the parcels. Both fields have beautiful views from their hilltops, and viewing sites are planned for both parcels.

It's been a long and exciting journey - BUT - we have one last step to go! State and federal grants cannot exceed 90% of the land cost, and they do not cover other costs of purchase, such as appraisals, surveys and legal fees. We, as a community, need to show we care, that these farmland pastures are important to us. We need to raise the remaining funds.

We have many people to thank for taking on this challenging effort. We especially thank Karl Hasel, Ann Letendre, Lisa Moody, Jon Roe, and Hans Weiss.

Contacts

For information on donations contact Ann Letendre at (860) 875-4623 or AnnLetendr@aol.com.

For questions on this website contact Jon Roe at (860) 875-4101 or Jon.Roe@comcast.net.

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