State announces Payne Farm preservation

42 acres conserved
Fri, 01/03/2014 - 3:00pm

The majority of Block Island’s Payne Farm is now preserved, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced Monday.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Program acquired development rights to 42 acres of the 50-acre Payne Farm, which is located on Payne Road near the center of the island, according to a press release by the DEM. Owner Cathy Payne was philosophical about the sale.

“I realized when I lost my father, Frank Payne, in 1995, I had tough issues to face in order to save the farm for my heirs,” said Payne Farm owner Cathy Payne in a statement to The Block Island Times. “I wanted to do what I knew my father would want [which is] to take care of the land, make it a better place and to pass it down to my son and his family.”

The preservation is the collaboration of several groups: the DEM, the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS), the Block Island Land Trust, and The Nature Conservancy.

The total purchase price for the development rights to Payne Farm was $4.1 million. The USDA provided $2,282,500 in federal funding for the project, through a grant from its Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Additional funding included $725,000 from the Block Island Land Trust, $392,500 from The Nature Conservancy, $400,000 from a Local Open Space Grant, and $300,000 from the RI Agricultural Land Preservation Commission.

Payne said that inheritance taxes, estate legal fees, and administration fees associated with saving a farm threatened the sale of the land for years. However, she said she didn’t want to sell the land, and that keeping the land as private property is best for the island.

“When asked ‘why don’t you just sell out, or cut off a few house lots to pay inheritance?’ I would always give a blank stare,” said Payne. “I just couldn’t sell my soul.”

She added, “Preserving the farm with the promise to never develop it was a property right I chose to give up. It was the family land with its heritage, values and wisdom that was more important for me to pass down. ... Nothing beats watching my 7-year old granddaughter Bailey wheeling her wheelbarrow full of hay to feed her miniature donkey. She just loves it here, and this warms my heart and gives me hope.”

Payne farms 17 acres of her land for vegetables, sheep, chickens and heritage hogs. The remainder of the farm consists of bayberry brush land and about three acres of wetlands. More than 79 percent of the site consists of prime farmlands.

“Farming often skips a generation — I am the granddaughter of the farmer who, along with his two brothers, worked the land with my Great Grandfather. The farm was the last dairy farm on Block Island,” said Payne. “The land lay fallow for about 40 years until I moved onto the farm in 1986. Still, the energy and hard work of my forefathers is here with me everyday.”

Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan told The Block Island Times, “We are delighted that this property has been conserved. It’s been an important piece of land to preserve, for the preservation of the ecology. It’s important because of the size, the location and the habitat it provides.”

According to the DEM release, Payne Farm is one of the last significant parcels of unprotected land and one of just a handful of working farms on Block Island. It sits in the heart of 115 acres of existing protected land consisting of key habitat and watershed land that drains to the Great Salt Pond. Together with Payne Farm, this area represents 2.5 percent of the Island. Because of its size and location, the farm has been a high priority for conservation for over 30 years, said the DEM release.

“What an amazing achievement — the preservation of beautiful Payne Farm safeguards working farmland and precious habitat forevermore,” said DEM Director Janet Coit in a statement, “I applaud the tremendous collaborative effort, involving private and public partners, which made it possible to celebrate the successful conservation of this valuable agricultural and environmental resource. This project represents a huge stride forward in the conservation effort on Block Island.”

Payne extended her thanks to Ken Ayers of the Division of Agriculture, Mike Kenyon at NRCS, Senator Jack Reed, Paul Brule, Roxanne Boisse of the USDA, and her Attorney Thomas A. Tarro III.

“I appreciate the financial support given to the entities involved for purchasing the Development Rights on the Farm,” said Payne. “In spite of the wrinkles and all the sacrifices I have made in the past 18 years, it’s well worth it in the end… I do worry about the next generation, as I would never want my son to go through what I have had to endure. I do know he won’t have the inheritance tax liability, or the fear of losing the land. In just this one respect, his life will be easier than mine.”