Claremont — It’s an odd place for an organic dairy farm.
Those who visit John and Beth Haynes at their farm Haynes Dairy will, less than a quarter mile away on Route 11, pass a car dealership, a couple of banks and a Dunkin’ Donuts just before turning onto Tengren Avenue and traveling up an otherwise unremarkable residential street that terminates, unexpectedly and dramatically, at a striking white farmhouse and classic New England red cow barn that stand surrounded by outbuildings bursting with everything from a sugaring operation to tractors and other machinery.
But it’s that proximity to the commercial strip that makes it all the more notable that the Haynes have become the latest landowners to enter the farm into a conservation easement that will ensure their 153 acres remain as agricultural land, forever.
John Haynes said that, after growing up with seven siblings in the white farmhouse, he took over the family business of milking a herd of about 110 Holsteins, from his father. But now, at 63 and without any children to step in, he and his wife reached out to Land For Good, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving farmland, as a prelude to a transition that will eventually result in the sale of the farm.
Haynes, a supplier for Organic Valley, said the ethics of conservation easements complements the ethics of organic practices.
“We think organic is a sustainable way to make a living,” he said. “We as a country have gone to extensive chemical farming, but we don’t want the world to miss out on small, community farms.”
Haynes said the property, which includes 69 acres of forest and which abuts the city-owned Moody Park, is “very developable,” and so the easement was needed to prevent a future landowner from trying to liquidate its potential by converting it into housing.
Conservation easements — legally binding contracts which are administered by nonprofit land trusts and which prevent future owners from developing a piece of land — have exploded in popularity since they first caught on about 25 years ago, according to a report on New Hampshire’s Land Conservation Investment Program written late last year by the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning’s Conservation Land Stewardship Program.
Beth Haynes said she’s enjoyed watching the animals on the property, which have included moose, deer, foxes, wild turkeys and a family of hawks that have nested at the same site for 20 years.
However, many of the owners who entered into the easements willingly are now turning over control of the land to new owners, with more than 63 percent of all state-held easement properties now under new ownership, a phase that is the report warns is bringing new challenges.
“The trend in conservation easement stewardship is toward increasing numbers of questions and possible challenges,” according to the report.
One possible problem with the “forever promise” of easements is that they can eventually butt up against other interests that are also in the public good.
For example, Montpelier held a “Land Conservation Summit” in October to discuss ways to manage the twin goals of land conservation and affordable housing, two needs that both rely on the same resource: land.
Andrew Winter, executive director of the Twin Pines Housing Trust, said he doesn’t see any such conflict in the future of the Upper Valley, in part because conservation organizations often work hand-in-hand with affordable housing groups.
“I don’t necessarily see the tension,” Winter said. Because zoning laws herd development into downtown and other designated growth areas, where access to utilities is cheaper, he said affordable housing developers are rarely seeking the same plots of land that conservationists target.
In Vermont, he said, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board supports both ambitions, and sometimes creates “dual-goal” developments that see affordable housing anchoring a small percentage of a large plot of land that can be protected from further development.
The Upper Valley Land Trust, which has conserved 50,000 acres in nearly 500 properties, purchased the Haynes’ easement with $147,500 in funding from the USDA, the 1772 Foundation, and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
“With nearly 75 acres of prime soil, their land is a terrific asset to agriculture in New Hampshire and we’re thrilled to help them conserve it,” said Peg Merrens, the trust’s vice president for land conservation, in a statement announcing the acquisition.
In the same announcement, the land trust revealed that Peter Martin and Lynn Freeman, of Plainfield, have donated the “Snow Mountain Conservation Area,” 400 acres of forestland in Enfield, Grantham and Plainfield.
That property, which contains a cellphone tower, snowmobile and hiking trails, and three large wetlands, lies above the Upper Valley Humane Society off Old Route 10, and will be used for educational purposes.
“We intend to manage the land long term as a natural area and place for low-impact recreation and education,” Jason Berard, the trust’s stewardship director, said in the announcement.
That land sits in a larger block of undeveloped forest, and, according to the trust, will enhance its other nearby holdings, which include 90 acres in the Leavitt Hill Wetland, and nearly 1,000 acres in the Smith Pond Shaker Forest.Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.
Haynes Dairy in Claremont currently supplies Organic Valley and remains a member of Cabot Creamery. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the cooperative that receives the farm’s milk.