Monday, August 17, 2015

Spencer Healey's Willife Introduction to the Moonlit Walk

Wintonbury Hills Golf Course:
A Certified Audubon Cooperative Golf Sanctuary
Good evening and welcome to Wintonbury Hills Golf Course. In this letter you will learn a little of what you might see and how we maintain and protect the habitat of our wildlife around the course. We are proud of both our maintained and native areas and make it a priority with our work, that our wild friends have a safe habitat for them and their families. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact Spencer Healey, Assistant Superintendent, with any questions.
To begin, the golf course industry is always under scrutiny for its use of pesticide and fertilizer and the impact that has on wildlife and water contamination. Here, we do things a little different. We operate our pesticide and spray program with extreme care and the use of low rates in shorter intervals. This allows the turf to get the necessary nutrients without penetrating deep into the soils or anywhere close to the water table. In addition, we use insecticides that are not harmful to pollinators and are applied on an as needed basis opposed to blanket ‘wish and hope sprays’. This is certainly a hot topic of discussion, however, I felt it important to convey that we believe that less is more when it comes to putting down product and healthy turf can be maintained with cultural practice and minimal pesticide or fertilizer use.
On to the fun stuff, wildlife! We closely monitor 18 nesting boxes for Bluebird and Tree Swallow. I will discuss the maintenance practices and monitoring efforts last, as well as provide to date numbers on new chicks and the amount that have fledged. As you begin your walk, however, here is some of the other wildlife to look out for. A rather large black bear is seen throughout the season, so be alert. There is also a bobcat that resides in front of the 2nd tee box, so I urge you to be alert! In all three bodies of water on the course, we have snapping turtles, painted turtles, carp, blue gill, small mouth bass and huge populations of various frog species. In the native areas by 17 green and 18 tee box, we have hundreds or praying mantis that hatch and mature. In past years we have had to close the cart path and detour play to avoid running over the massive numbers that have hatched! Skunks and raccoons roam freely throughout the night, and as the morning sun begins to rise deer and their fawns can be seen leaving the open course and into the wood lines. Turkey vultures and red tail hawks monitor the skies as our great blue herons (usually one on 17 and one on 14) are seen wading the banks of the water looking for food. One morning I was lucky enough to see a mother wood duck with 8 ducklings waddle across the 10th fairway in search of water. In the fescue killdeer nest and the parents and young chicks sprint all over the course. In early May we erected a nest by the irrigation pond and hope to attract an osprey as we have seen them passing by for a quick hunt as they move toward the Connecticut River.
It was not my intent to have this be such a long description of the wildlife on the course, so I will wrap it up with our nesting boxes. As earlier mentioned, we have 18 boxes throughout the course. We cut down the growth around those boxes to provide the homes a secure location that predators will not want to approach. On a weekly basis they are opened and counts are made of eggs or chicks. In addition to this weekly count, we remove any house sparrow nesting’s and destroy the nests as well as any eggs that have been laid. Unfortunately we have lost a bluebird and an entire tree swallow nest and family to this non-native bird. Despite what house sparrow population is around, with weekly check-ins (or as I like to call it, landlord visits) we are able to prevent more house sparrows from housing and killing bluebirds and tree swallows. To date, we have had 2 groups fledge almost every box. We are currently in the third nesting period for both bluebird and tree swallow. 32 tree swallows have been born and left the nest and 15 bluebirds are on their own as little adults. Currently, there are another 11 tree swallow chicks in the nesting boxes and also 11 bluebird chicks waiting to discover the world.
Thank you for stopping by and seeing our course and the efforts that we put in to ensuring that our wildlife feels just as happy and at home as we do here.

Spencer Healey

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Case Study of Land Trust Providing Farmland Access

Wintonbury Land Trust: Supporting and Improving
Land Access to Local Farmers
By Rachel Murray
Land trusts are at the forefront of reshaping the agricultural landscape in Connecticut. They can be a leader supporting and promoting new and beginning farmers by providing access to farmland.

Wintonbury Land Trust and Hawk Hill Preserve
Protection of natural resources, conservation of farmland, and community building through the natural landscape are part of the strongly held mission of The Wintonbury Land Trust (WLT) in Bloomfield, Connecticut. On a recent walk through the newly acquired Hawk Hill Preserve, Land Trust President Dale Bertoldi and Treasurer Vikki Reski spoke about the historical and agricultural presence Hawk Hill has in the community. According to the Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) there are over 137 land trusts throughout Connecticut. These include local, regional, and statewide organizations. Land trusts provide a real and thriving opportunity for new and beginning farmers to commence a local agriculture business.

The 45 acre Hawk Hill Preserve is nestled between two adjoining farms, including the farmland that's part of the LaSalette Park owned by the Town of Bloomfield. Bloomfield is a community rich in agricultural and cultural history so the desire to acquire this property with its prime agricultural soils, scenic vistas, and potential to support multiple farmers selling local products has been very strong with the Wintonbury Land Trust. The Hawk Hill preserve is one of the oldest continuously operating farm properties in Bloomfield. The Kelly Family purchased the farm land in the 1860's, and operated it as a Dairy Farm until it was sold to a developer in the early 1980's. The original farmhouse, located on an adjoining parcel of land, dates back to 1746 and was originally a Tavern. Additionally, there are fields across the street that were once part of this farm, but are now owned privately could add to the 21acres of tillable land at Hawk Hill in the future.

Wintonbury Land Trust partnered with the Town of Bloomfield, CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to purchase the property from its current owners and additionally purchase the easement on the land so that Hawk Hill is guaranteed to stay as working farmland and open space. In this arrangement, the Town holds the easement rights and Wintonbury Land Trust owns the property outright. Through the work of a strong local campaign to raise money to purchase the land along with the help of several foundations, Wintonbury Land Trust purchased the Hawk Hill property on April 23, 2015. To help protect the multiple conservation values, and according to the easement, any farmer using the land must provide and follow a detailed Conservation Plan. Additionally, a designated walking trail is available and maintained for hikers to pass through Hawk Hill connecting several local trails.

For the 2015 season, Wintonbury Land Trust leased the 45-acre Hawk Hill Preserve to a local farmer raising Scottish Highland cattle. In this arrangement, the farmer provides and installs her own temporary fencing for the cattle while also mowing hay for her cattle for the upcoming winter. The farmer also agreed to mow the fields not suitable for hay to maintain the aesthetic appeal of the farm and continued management of perennial weeds and invasives. For the 2016 season, it is planned that Wintonbury Land Trust will formally accept "Request For Proposals" (RFPs) for farmers interested in a long-term lease on the Hawk Hill property. Keeping the farmable portions in agriculture will reduce WLT and the Town's stewardship costs, help maintain the conservation values, and add fresh local agricultural products into the community.  Stay connected with the Wintonbury Land Trust through their website for more details.

Connecticut Land Access Programs
As more Connecticut land trusts realize the value in making land available to farmers, the importance to list and find properties is increasingly significant. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture's CT FarmLink is a statewide resource for farm owners and farm seekers to advertise land available and additionally to search farm properties that are available. Along with farm properties listed on CT FarmLink, New England Farm Finder (NEFF) is another resource that includes all properties and farm seekers throughout New England. Utilizing these two matchmaking websites are excellent opportunities for land trusts to efficiently and effectively find a farmer for their land. A statewide reality is that there are significantly more farm seekers then there are farm properties available making the case that land trusts have the potential to significantly alter and improve the agricultural landscape in Connecticut.

Land For Good (LFG) is a New England based non-profit with Field Agents in each state working to improve farmland access and keep more farmers working the land.  LFG has an extensive "Toolbox" available on their website with resources helpful for farm seekers and farm owners, including sample leases and different models to use as a guide depending on the needs of the land trust and farmer.  Consultation to actually help craft the match between the two parties is also available.  In addition, the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, provides users information about land trusts throughout the state and has model agricultural easement language and leases to use as guidance. Lastly, UConn Extension has a helpful website with various agricultural programs and services they provide, from a list of essential resources for beginning farmers called "The Bucket List", to contacts for Extension educators and specialists, and the Farmland ConneCTions Guide and model leases.  All of these resources are ready, available, and free of charge for land trusts, land owners, and land seekers alike to utilize.

The role of land trusts is becoming one of establishing a model for acquiring the land through creative partnerships, protecting the land, and establishing a farmer on the land.  They can help lead the renaissance for agriculture in Connecticut. 

Rachel Murray, M.S. is the Connecticut Field Agent for Land For Good. She can be reached at or 603-357-1600

About the AGvocate Program
The AGvocate Program promotes farm-friendly community policies and regulations in Eastern Connecticut, and is the liaison between agricultural producers and local communities. The Program is managed by the Connecticut Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc. (RC&D) in cooperation with a Steering Committee comprised of members from The Last Green Valley (TLGV), participating communities, agricultural businesses, and many federal, state, and nonprofit agencies and organizations.
Connecticut AGvocate Program
c/o Connecticut RC&D Area, Inc.
24 Hyde Avenue
Vernon, CT  06066
John Guszkowski, AGvocate Program Manager