Ithaca, NY – The Finger Lakes Land Trust announced today that it has accepted the donation of two conservation easements in the town of Sennett, Cayuga County.
The two easements protect approximately 86 acres of prime working farmland, with one parcel owned by husband and wife team Lou and Merby Lego and the other by Lou’s sister, Christina Lego, and her husband Jeff Shingleton.
Lou and Merby own and operate the Elderberry Pond restaurant and farm, which are both located on Center Street Road – midway between Auburn and Skaneateles. The farm has been certified organic since 1999 and it features a diverse array of crops—fruit (including an apple orchard with dozens of heirloom varieties), vegetables, herbs, and cut flowers. They also raise pigs and chickens in several acres of pasture. The farm serves as the main source of food for the restaurant.
When Lou and his wife Merby bought their farm in the mid-1980s, they joined a robust farming community. “The entire area consisted of working farms, and everybody knew each other. We would gather at different farms to celebrate holidays,” said Lou. But one by one, nearby farms began to disappear as farmers struggled to make a living. As few of their children showed interest in working the land, these famers sold all or a portion of their properties. The main buyers were developers seeking to turn farmland into subdivisions.
The farm features modern touches, such as two solar greenhouses that allow for year-round farming, along with historical elements that date back to the mid-1800s, including a one-room schoolhouse and a stone building that once housed a community butcher and smokehouse. Today, Lou and Merby use the stone building as a country food store, selling seasonal produce from the farm during the summer and fall.
For both families, sustaining the rural character of the area was paramount in their decision to protect their land with conservation easements. “I served on the Town Planning Board for some years and was astounded at the amount of farmland development,” said Christina. “We firmly believe in the importance of local agriculture,” added Lou. “Preserving this land’s past, present, and future as a working farm is the most important thing we can do.”
According to the American Farmland Trust, more than 24 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S. have been lost to residential or commercial development over the past 30 years. To counter this trend, the Finger Lakes Land Trust is working with farmers to protect their land through the use of conservation easements – perpetual legal agreements that limit development while allowing the land to remain in private ownership and available for farming.
Conservation easements may be either sold or donated. Typically, purchases are made possible by grants from New York State’s Department of Agriculture & Markets. Those who are in a position to donate a conservation easement on their land are also eligible for a state property tax credit and a federal income tax deduction provided that certain criteria are met.
Recent farmland protection efforts undertaken by the Land Trust in the eastern Finger Lakes include the protection of Great Gully farm in southern Cayuga County and the Rybinski farm in eastern Onondaga County.
The Finger Lakes Land Trust is a member supported, non-profit conservation organization that works cooperatively with landowners and local communities to conserve forever the lands and waters of the Finger Lakes region, ensuring scenic vistas, local foods, clean water, and wild places for everyone.
To date, the Land Trust has worked with partners to secure more than 17,000 acres of the region’s undeveloped shoreline, scenic farmland, rugged gorges, and majestic forest. The organization owns and manages over 30 conservation areas that are accessible to the public and holds conservation easements on over 100 properties that remain in private ownership. Additional information on the Land Trust and conservation easements may be found at www.fllt.org.