FUTURE OF POMFRET FARM SECURE THANKS IN PART TO STATE AND FEDERAL PARTNERSHIP
Carolyn Miller, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Back in 1924, when Russian immigrants Alexander and Stephanida Wolchesky purchased their 120-acre farm in Pomfret, Connecticut, it probably never occurred to them there would be a reason to protect it from development.
According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture Historical Archive, back then approximately 61% of the state’s land surface was devoted to farming. However, construction, manufacturing, and industrial uses over the next few decades changed things, and by 1964 the number had dropped to about 23%. Today that number is even smaller at just under 14%.
Because of the constant decline in the state’s agricultural land, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture created the Farmland Preservation Program in 1978.
Through the program, the state acquires development rights to agricultural properties, ensuring the land remains available only for agricultural use in perpetuity.
The main objective is to establish a food-and-fiber producing land resource base, consisting mainly of prime and important farmland soils, that will ensure local availability of fresh farm products, and help agriculture remain an important part of the state’s economy.
This program works hand-in-hand with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits. Agricultural land easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses.
Land protected by these easements provides additional public benefits including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open space.
The Wolchesky’s maintained ownership of their beloved farm for the rest of their lives and following their deaths, the land was divided up among their children. Over time, several shares were passed down to grandchildren, until it was owned by 14 separate family members.
One of the Wolchesky’s grandsons, John Jr., had been brought up on his dad’s stories about how he and his siblings helped their father clear the land with little more than bow saws and horses.
The younger Wolchesky loved the farm and the stories that went with it. He hated the thought of it being fragmented – it was not what his grandparents would have wanted.
So, from 1977 to 2003, John Jr. talked about, planned, and discussed with his dad the idea of getting the entire farm back under one parcel. He reached out to kinfolk, who all agreed that something needed to be done. The land, once a thriving farm under the watchful eyes of Alexander and Stephanida, was now overgrown and neglected.
John Sr. didn’t think it could but done – but he was wrong. His son was able to negotiate with family members and in 2003, John Wolchesky, Jr. became the sole owner of every bit of the 120 acres his grandparents had worked so hard to acquire.
Even before he owned it, the younger Wolchesky knew if he was able to procure the property, he wasn’t going to risk it becoming anything other than open agricultural land. And he knew the solution to that was through an easement.
He contacted the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DOAg) and talked about the what/if’s and the if/when’s.
Over the next several years, his life changed. He retired from his full-time job and began working to fix the things that had fallen into disrepair. And, he got the wheels moving for a conservation easement for the property.
Wolchesky worked with NRCS and DOAg to secure protection of his family legacy. The land where his grandparents raised their family, where his father grew up – where he feels such a close connection. In December 2018, the easement became official.
Today, John Wolchesky grows vegetables and hay on the land he knows can never be developed. He dreams of someday growing hops and maybe starting a small brewery.
And he likes to think that his grandparents would be proud of all he has done to restore the farm that means as much to him as it did to them.