News / Blog

New Yorkers Training to Save Farms and Farmland
May 9, 2016

Agriculture is an important part of our economy and way of life in New York. Farms provide jobs and produce food that is enjoyed by millions of New Yorkers.

But, farming can be a tough business and keeping farmers on the land requires active support from communities – particularly town and county governments.

American Farmland Trust, collaborating with LEAD NY and CaRDI at Cornell University, recently hosted a training program for community leaders, the Local Agriculture and Land Use Leadership Institute, to help farmers, planners, local government officials and others to proactively speak up for local agriculture.

The Institute’s five full-day training sessions took place with twenty-five participants from Madison, Oneida and Onondaga counties. The trainings expanded participants’ knowledge of the technical aspects of land use planning, farmland protection and agricultural economic development – everything from farm-friendly zoning to agricultural conservation easements to workforce development programs – and developed the leadership skills necessary to work effectively in their communities.

Scott O’Mara spent the last 10 years working on his family’s farm, and just recently began his off-farm career at Farm Credit East, where he enjoys building relationships with farmers throughout Central New York. Scott, who also serves on the Madison County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, felt like the institute would help build his knowledge base as he becomes even more involved in his community.

“I have four kids at home, so I’m just looking at my community and trying to figure out what I can do to help promote agriculture and make sure it remains a vibrant part of our community, making it a better place to live and to raise a family.” –Scott O’Mara

He has witnessed firsthand suburban sprawl encroach on his family’s farm, and has dealt with the myriad conflicts that pop up when non-farming residents move into agricultural communities. Moving forward, one of Scott’s goals is to help grow a new farmers market near his home, creating economic opportunity for farmers while connecting residents to the farms in their backyards.

Karin Reeves, a next-generation farmer who manages sales and marketing for her family’s 300-acre vegetable and berry operation in Onondaga County is another trainee. Karin knew about farmers selling their development rights to conserve their farmland, but didn’t know a lot about the legal and technical aspects of the process. The Institute provided Karin with a much broader understanding of the range of community organizations involved in farmland protection, and the various opportunities for funding projects. Karin felt the trainings succeeded at balancing the development of interpersonal leadership skills with technical aspects involved in land use planning.

“There’s a hundred different ways for communities to protect farmland, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.” –Karin Reeves

The Institute’s leadership development activities made an impression on Scott, who feels such skills can be difficult to hone without the group-engagement offered in a classroom-like setting. “It’s just driven home some common themes,” he says. “How important relationships are – and networking – to moving projects forward and the need for management skills. It’s just the small things that you sometimes take for granted that can make a huge difference in the success of a project – if it moves forward or if it stalls.”

Some have experienced such “stalling” firsthand. Jim Manning of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Oneida County spent eight years involved in updating his town’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations. “By the time we were done, we should’ve been starting to update them again,” he says with a laugh. He explains that it’s hard to get people involved in town boards and committees.

“Towns are given a lot of responsibility and do not have a lot of resources to work with.” –Jim Manning

Jim will be involved in updating Oneida County’s 1998 Farmland Protection Plan over the next 12 months. He enrolled in the Institute because, working at the county level, he wants to make sure that municipalities have the knowledge and resources necessary to plan for agriculture.

In addition to gaining skills and networking with other leaders in their communities, participants received certificates of program completion that can be applied for land use training credits required by the State of New York for planning and zoning board members. We want to recognize all of our participants below, and give special thanks to the Central New York Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties and Farm Credit East for their generous support of the Local Agriculture and Land Use Leadership Institute and this training program in Madison, Oneida and Onondaga Counties!

Congratulations Local Agriculture and Land Use Leadership Institute Participants!

  • Kathryn Adams, Cognos Performance Consulting, Inc.
  • Jennifer Armstrong, NYS Tug Hill Commission
  • Katherine Brosnan, Madison County Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Amy Franco, CHA Consulting, Inc.
  • Judy Gianforte, Cazenovia Preservation Foundation
  • Luke Gianforte, Gianforte Farm LLC
  • Kipp Hicks, Madison County Industrial Development Agency
  • Claire Howard, Town Councilor
  • Brymer Humphreys, Farmer
  • Dave Jones, Town Supervisor
  • Gretchen Maine, Farmer
  • Jim Manning, Oneida County Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Jennifer Marotto Lutter, Partnership for Community
  • Dan McCoach, Farmer & Brookfield Planning Board
  • Scott O’Mara, Farm Credit East, O’Mara Farms
  • Melanie Palmer, Onondaga County Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Tricia Park, Creekside Meadows Farm
  • David Peters, SUNY Empire State College Student
  • Karin Reeves, Reeves Farm LLC
  • Guy Sassaman, Oneida County Department of Planning
  • Laura Shoemaker, Farm Credit East
  • Russ Stewart, Self-employed
  • Mark Tucker, Farmer & Town Planning Board
  • Caroline Williams, Oneida County Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Sharon Young Slate, NYS Horse Council


The curriculum for the Local Agriculture, Land Use & Leadership Development Institute was developed by American Farmland Trust and Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) and LEAD-NY.

Source – American Farmland Trust


Summer 2018