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New county plan deters sale of farmland to developers

A booklet that says "Onondaga County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan" lies on a table.
Karl Winter
The Onondaga County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan pamphlet lies on a table.

The new Onondaga County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan is designed to protect the county's best soil, especially when a farmer decides to retire and make big money selling to a developer.

Farmer Brian Reeves said an individual farmer's quick payday could add up and leave the region without enough land to meet food needs.

"The attention span of a lot of people isn't very long," Reeves said. "And I've said it over and over, if we let the public forget the fact that food security is national security, then that's on us. That's our fault."

The farm protection plan unanimously approved by the Onondaga County Legislature on Tuesday supports a state program that gives retiring farmers more money if they sell to other farmers instead of developers.

Agriculture is a $6 billion industry in New York state, and Onondaga County plays a key role. Reeves sits on the county's agriculture and farmland protection board, ensuring farming remains strong in the region.

"There's a lot more land that would like to be protected," Reeves said. "There's a lot more development pressure than the current funding addresses. So we're trying to fight that battle. We're making some progress. But is there more progress to be made; yes, a lot."

Megan Costa, from the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency, said the protection plan would help keep the agriculture community intact.

"If it's not the farmers' children, who's it going to be," Costa said. "We need to sort of work more to identify who those folks are going to be and really nurture that."

Costa said the plan also guides cities to create ordinances that do not over-regulate farms.

The plan now moves to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets for final approval.

Karl Winter is a graduate student studying broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May 2023. As a multimedia reporter, Karl helps produce audio and digital content for WAER. Karl moved to Syracuse from Stockton, California, and attended undergraduate college at Pepperdine University in Malibu.