by Marie Doyon
|Elizabeth Ryan proudly displays the apples growing at the
Stone Ridge Orchard.
The saving of the Stone Ridge Orchard is a miraculous feat of community support, vision, hope, funding, and good fortune. Elizabeth Ryan, of Breezy Hill Orchard in Dutchess County, purchased the property from Dan Hauspurg and family in the first week of May 2014 for $1.3 million.
The Hauspurgs had originally purchased the 114-acre property with a vision to expand its agricultural roots and create a profitable farm. They planted new trees, updated varieties of apples, and diversified the crop, including other fruit trees such as plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, Asian pears, and hardy kiwis. They also added a cold storage facility, a packing plant, employee housing, and a maintenance barn.
After several consecutive years of losing big money, the Hauspurgs decided to throw in the towel on the agricultural endeavor. In 2007, the family conceived of the idea of the Marbletown Green—an off-the-grid development with a solar farm and geothermal heating and cooling that included a diversity of housing, the potential for commercial development, municipal services (library, post office, town hall).
When the family brought the idea to the public, the people were definitively against moving away from an agricultural use for the land. Fortunately, at that juncture Elizabeth Ryan entered the scene and began renting the land for cultivation. For seven years Ryan operated the Stone Ridge orchard as a tenant.
Four of those seven years, Ryan was in negotiations with the Hauspurgs about the purchase of the property. She was finally able to close the deal with the support of a $1 million bridge loan from Equity Trust, a small national nonprofit, through their recently created Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Program. This new program, developed in collaboration with the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation and Imprint Capital, was launched with the goals of maintaining access to locally grown food in the Hudson Valley, preserving working farmland, and helping to make land ownership more affordable to farmers.
“The bridge loan allowed Ryan to purchase the orchard and removed the risk that it could be sold for development,” said Equity Trust’s Executive Director, Jim Oldham. “This provides time to raise funds for the protective easement that will keep it a working farm forever.”
The loan and resulting purchase are the first step in a collaborative effort to permanently preserve the orchard. Equity Trust and Ryan are partnering with Scenic Hudson to place a specialized easement on the property that will not only prevent development on the land but also include active farming requirements and resale price restrictions to keep it affordable for future farmers. Scenic Hudson, with support from the Open Space Institute, is financing the purchase of development rights while seeking a match from the federal Agricultural Conservation Easements Program.
The Stone Ridge Orchard is a 200-year-old working farm, one of the last great orchards in the Rondout Valley. As dear to locals as it is to weekenders, the orchard has long been a favorite spot for family outings, daytime dates, and school trips. Nestled between the hamlets of Stone Ridge and High Falls, the property boasts a combination of beauty—idyllic ponds and sweeping panoramas of the Shawangunk and Catskill mountain ridges— and convenience—minutes from two state highways, in the heart of a thriving community of small local businesses.
A seasoned green thumb, Ryan has her hands in a multitude of farm and food enterprises including farm stands, u-pick operations, a bakery, and a thriving hard cider business.
In a letter Ryan wrote to the public after the purchase went through, she says, “One of our dreams for Stone Ridge Orchard was to establish an heirloom hard cider orchard, a portion of which will be managed organically.” They are currently fundraising for this project.
Ryan says of the purchase, “The Stone Ridge Orchard has been significantly at risk for major development for nearly a decade. I am delighted to be working with the local land preservation community to acquire and protect this beloved orchard. We are committed to broadening public access and expanding the Marbletown Rail Trail. I am very grateful to Equity Trust and LEP for this huge gesture of support for this historic and centrally located farm. As a steward of this beautiful land, I hope to preserve it as a working farm, at the heart of the community, for generations to come.”