An additional 740 acres of Mansfield’s Stearns Farm will permanently remain in agriculture after they were officially protected on Jan. 23.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Town of Mansfield, worked to protect the land, according to a Mansfield press release. It is the fifth and final conservation effort that permanently protects more than 1,000 acres of the farm.
Stearns Farm is the home of Mountain Dairy, a Mansfield business that produces and sells milk. Mountain Dairy’s land is the largest expanse of privately-held open space in the Town of Mansfield, according to the press release.
The Stearns family has lived on and cared for the farmland for almost two-and-a-half centuries, Bonnie Burr, Department Head of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources’ Cooperative Extension System at the University of Connecticut, said.
“Today, the ninth, tenth and 11th generations of the Stearns family farm 1,000 acres and milk 300 cows,” Burr said.
Mountain Dairy is a licensed producer-handler, meaning it milks its own cows, processes its own milk and sells its straight to its consumers, Burr said. It is one of only 40 producer-handlers in America.
“Mountain Dairy has 100 percent quality control over its products,” Burr said. “At the end of the day, providing high quality local milk will continue to be important to our state, and protecting their land for the future enables future farmers to build on the legacy of this land.”
Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said in the press release that the preservation is “a big win” for Connecticut farmland preservation.
“We recognize prime farmland for the tremendous value it brings to the quality of life in Connecticut,” Reviczky said. “This partnership between the Stearns family and local, state and federal partners represents a shared commitment to future generations, their access to high-quality farmland and their ability to continue providing milk and other essential agricultural products to our citizens.”
Mansfield Mayor Paul Shapiro said in the press release that the preservation of Mountain Dairy’s agricultural land is “great news” for the town of Mansfield and the region.
“Mountain Dairy is the oldest farm in town, Mansfield’s largest agricultural business and a key part of the town’s identity,” Shapiro said. “The town looks forward to working with Mountain Dairy to help their business thrive.”
Connecticut National Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) State Conservationist Thomas L. Morgart said in the press release that Connecticut NRCS is proud to be a part of protecting Stearns Farm.
“Conservation easements are beneficial on so many levels,” Morgart said. “They allow the landowner(s) to keep the property they love, provide a guarantee that the land will not be developed, protect wildlife and its habitat, protect open space, contribute to the environmental quality of the surrounding area and preserve a piece of the state’s history.”
Mansfield Environmental Planner Jennifer Kaufman said in the press release that Mountain Dairy is located in the town’s largest area of prime agricultural soils and active plant farms. Kaufman said Stearns Farm boasts almost 1,100 acres of contiguous, permanently protected farmland.
“The acquisition of the development rights on the final piece of the Stearns Farm is a milestone for farmland preservation in Mansfield and to the State of Connecticut,” Mountain Dairy spokesperson Jeremy Jeliffe said. “This is the final piece of Stearns’ land to be preserved after years of efforts by the family and the town, state and federal governments.”
Gabriella DeBenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.