Thompson-Finch Farm is a 208-acre certified organic fruit and vegetable farm in Ancram, New York, that Equity Trust and our partners permanently protected as an affordable working farm. Begun by Marnie and Don MacLean as a small market garden in 1982, on land that has been in Marnie’s family for five generations, the farm is now one of the largest and most well-known you-pick organic strawberry operations in the northeast. The farm also produces delicious high bush blueberries, fourteen varieties of organic apples, and early season heirloom tomatoes. The MacLeans’ management balances productivity with environmental stewardship, protecting a regionally significant river, wetlands, and other natural habitat.
In 2016, as ownership was transferring from one generation to the next, the farm was at risk of being broken up and sold at a price out of reach for almost any farmer, which would most likely have removed it from agricultural use. The MacLeans understood that they would have to come up with a creative solution to protect the land they have farmed as lessees for decades, so they joined forces with Equity Trust, through our Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Program, and the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) to form the Thompson-Finch Farm Collaborative to permanently protect the property for future generations.
That December, as a first step in securing the farm, Equity Trust’s Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Fund provided a bridge loan so the MacLeans could acquire the property on an interim basis. We worked with them and CLC to raise funds so CLC can purchase the land to establish shared-equity ownership of the property to keep it a permanently affordable and available to farmers. Equity Trust has pledged almost $300,000 in farm affordability funds as a fundraising match. The fundraising goal was met and at a closing in March, the farm was made permanently affordable under a shared equity ownership structure established with a ground lease!
Under CLC’s ownership, the MacLeans (and subsequent farmers) have a long-term ground lease to use the land, and they own the buildings and other improvements on the land. This shared-ownership approach not only addresses the threat to the farm’s future triggered by the current intergenerational transfer, it also establishes a structure that will facilitate farmer-to-farmer transfers and ensure that these sorts of transitions will not put the farm’s existence at risk. This is the first time CLC has used this approach to establish a permanently affordable working farm and it is a first for any Hudson Valley land trust. (Equity Trust’s Roxbury Farm was the first farm in the region to be protected in this way.)
Other public benefits from CLC’s ownership include the opening of a small public trail leading to the banks of the Roeliff Jansen Kill, which runs through the property, and the provision of some educational programming on the farm. An additional layer of protection for the property is provided through a conservation easement, held by Dutchess Land Conservancy with partial funding from Scenic Hudson.
Thompson-Finch Farm in the news: