Ben and Lori Gehl are eager to move into Clarence, where they will live and work on a farm along Rapids Road.
They bought from the town a 90-acre property in a deal that weaves together agriculture, the tax rolls and a land-preservation program.
It was the first time the town has resold land it acquired under Greenprint, which the town established in 2002 to protect green space and farmland. The property will remain undeveloped according to the Greenprint’s restrictions, while generating new benefits.
The sale returns the property to the tax rolls, brings a family into a vacant house and revives farming on the land, said James B. Callahan, the town’s director of community development. More deals involving Greenprint land could follow.
The town spent $320,000 to purchase the 90 acres through Greenprint in 2008, and the Gehls bought it from the town for $155,000, a price that made it affordable for them to establish their farm in the town.
“We say the Greenprint program is what brought us to Clarence,” Ben Gehl said.
The land was sold for far less than the town’s purchase price because development rights were extinguished under Greenprint, greatly limiting the land’s potential future use, said Brad Packard, assistant director of community development. Taking the sale to the Gehls into account, the town, in effect, paid $165,000 for the development rights to the 90 acres, Packard said.
The town had issued notice of several parcels of conserved farmland available for purchase, to encourage active farming on the land. The Gehls’ 90 acres extend from south of Rapids Road to just north of Kelkenberg Road, west of the Newstead border at the town’s northeast corner.
The Western New York Land Conservancy, a land trust that works with the town on Greenprint, said a conservation easement on the property preserves oxbow wetlands that are home to wood ducks and a diverse collection of amphibians. And the property borders the 101-acre Baker farm, which is also protected by Greenprint, said Nancy Smith, the conservancy’s executive director.
Smith said Greenprint’s benefits to the town extend beyond the environment: The program’s presence contributed to Moody’s decision to increase the town’s municipal bond rating.
The Gehls, who have three children, hope to move onto the property by the end of the month. Their farm is currently set up on land in Akron owned by Ben Gehl’s parents. “We’ve been doing pasture-raised chickens and turkeys, and we’ve been selling eggs. Our first batch of pigs are going to the butcher this week.”
The Gehls call their farm Chicken Worth Eating, but they might rename it once the farm relocates.
“We intend to add what we can, including beef, lamb, rabbit,” Ben Gehl said. “All of those things are possibilities once we’re able to handle them.”
On their farm, the Gehls keep their animals in a “more natural system, where they can forage grass and natural foods, and they’re in the fresh air and sunlight. They’re healthier animals. The meat quality itself is better, and the animals themselves live a better life,” Ben Gehl said.
When animals live in those conditions, “it actually improves the land,” Lori Gehl said. “You’re better able to take care of the next batch of animals, which then improve the land. You’re not actually depleting the resources, which is why it’s called ‘sustainable.’ ”