The Bahler family, owners of Oakridge Dairy, conveyed the development rights to 125.7 acres of a farm that has been in their family since the 1800’s (known formerly as Bahler Farms). Encompassing about 2,800 acres in Ellington and Somers, the farm supplies milk to Guida’s Dairy processing facility in New Britain, which is part of the Dairy Farmers of America Co-Op.
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was the federal piece in the partnership trilogy – of local, state, and federal – working alongside the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Town of Ellington to make the easement come to fruition. Through the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, NRCS contributed half of the $1.8 million appraised fair market value of the easement.
The land, used for growing silage corn for the farm’s dairy herd, is located in an area where farming is the predominant land use. “Hopefully neighboring farms will see the value of farmland preservation and begin thinking about doing the same thing,” said NRCS State Conservationist Thomas L. Morgart. “That area is full of well-drained, fertile soil and this is a perfect way to make sure it stays that way forever.”
Seth Bahler, head of the farm’s management team, stated that he and his team have spent the last two years updating and “redefining everything” about the farm. Protecting this parcel is part of their plan of succession to the next generations.
According to Bahler, the family plans to use the proceeds from the conveyance to purchase more cropland to support its 40-person operation. They are also beginning to explore the possibility of branching out into milk processing and agri-tourism. Bahler said they were pleasantly surprised recently when they held a little-advertised open house that drew approximately 1,000 visitors. “That really got us thinking that we should consider diversifying,” he said. “We’re surrounded by people here and we want to find a way to tap into that.”
The 125 acres was considered highly susceptible to non-agricultural development because it is relatively flat and clear and is located in an area that has seen significant home construction in recent years. “Preserving this tract of land is of substantial benefit to Connecticut and its residents,” said Morgart, “Ninety-four percent of it has been found to be either prime farmland soils, or statewide important soils.”
The significance of the designation of prime farmland is that it is of major importance in meeting the nation’s short- and long-range needs for food and fiber. A designation of statewide importance means that land has the ability to produce high yields of crops when treated and managed according to acceptable farming methods.