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Two Towns to Vote on Farm Conservation Projects

Two Towns to Vote on Farm Conservation Projects

by Lynn GauthierSap buckets, mud season, and town meetings – it must be spring in New England!  And this March both Rochester and Stratham will be considering municipal funding to support conserving working farms – Gauthier’s Farm and Barker’s Farm.  These SELT-led projects continue our focus on farmland for the future, recognizing that productive farms are critical to a local food supply and so much more…

In Rochester, the City Council is considering authorizing the expenditure of up to $229,000 in funds from the Conservation Fund and general fund to acquire a conservation easement on Gauthier’s Farm.  Rochester’s funds, if authorized, would match $200,000 secured through the Coastal Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership (RCP), a collaborative effort of the US Natural Resources Conservation Service, the NH Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, SELT, and the Rockingham and Strafford County Conservation Districts, and approximately $30,000 in private funds committed by Jane’s Trust.  The RCP focuses on improving the water quality of Great Bay through 1) conserving farmland, 2) restoring oyster reefs in the bay, and 3) implementing best management practices on farmland throughout the watershed.

So Gauthier’s Farm, with is 1.4 miles of shoreline on the Salmon Falls River, was a perfect match for the RCP.  The 160-acre farm boasts diverse wildlife habitat and is a working farm that offers vegetables, meats, eggs, maple syrup, hard cider, and other products.  On top of all of this, the land is open to the public for outdoor recreation and public access.  The City Council’s vote has yet to be scheduled but is expected by the end of March.

Similarly, in Stratham, Barker’s Farm is a beloved farm that is intertwined with the fabric of its community.  Local food lovers driving Route 33 undoubtedly have stopped by at the farmstand for their own fresh corn or picked up their favorite veggies at the Exeter Farmer’s Market.  And mountain bikers and hikers in the Stratham Hill Park have unwittingly crossed the forestland of Barker’s Farm as part of the public trail network.  The Barker Family is selling the conservation easement for $675,000 less than its appraised value, a generous act showing their commitment to keeping farmland for the future!

Stratham voters will have their say on the future of the Barker’s Farm, as the traditional Town Meeting will be asked to appropriate $400,000 to help acquire the conservation easement on the farm.  SELT has submitted a grant application for the matching funds from the federal Agricultural Land Easement program, and remains hopeful the project will be awarded… (decisions by summer!)

photos by Lynn Gauthier