SUFFIELD, Conn. — As well-manicured housing subdivisions continue to sprout up at the very edges of their crop fields, the Bieolonko family has ensured that nearly 125 acres of their home farm will forever remain in agriculture after conveying its development rights to the state under its Farmland Preservation Program.
“We did this so this land will always be available to farm, be it for future generations of our family or for somebody else,” said Benny Bielonko, who runs the dairy, tobacco and vegetable farm with his brother John and now his son, Ben III. “That’s what we stand for – and this is a direct tribute to everyone who ever worked on this farm.”
The state Dept. of Agriculture partnered in the preservation with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, which made significant contributions through its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) process. The Town of Suffield also contributed to the project.
The farmland along busy Route 159 has been part of the Bielonko family farm since the early 1900s, when Benny’s grandfather Benjamin emigrated from Poland and started buying small parcels of farmland, mainly to feed his dairy herd. He eventually began raising tobacco, providing income to supplement the sale of bottled milk.
In the early 1960s, Benny’s father John and mother Irene started growing sweet corn and some other vegetables.
“It was pretty small – they were basically selling from a card table,” in front of the farmhouse, recalled Benny, who grew up working on the farm.
Today, the family runs a popular farm stand where they offer their own vegetables including corn, tomatoes and pumpkins. They sell milk from their herd of about 170 cows, and farm a total of about 265 acres of corn, 200 acres of hay and 100 acres of broadleaf tobacco.
Driving through expansive fields where the last of the season’s feed corn was being harvested early this week, Benny pointed out an array of large and relatively new houses standing within feet of the farm’s borders.
Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said the likelihood that the property would be sold for non-farm use was a key factor in the state’s decision to purchase its development rights.
“This area of Suffield continues to be very desirable for housing construction,” Reviczky said. “I commend the Bielonkos for their commitment to honoring their agricultural heritage and their perseverance in working with us to protect this very productive farmland.”
“Protecting the state’s valuable working lands is critical,” said Thomas L. Morgart, Connecticut State Conservationist for the USDA-NRCS, noting that 94 percent of the Bielonko farm’s soils are designated prime or statewide important farmland. “Through our ACEP-ALE Program, NRCS is able to help landowners protect their land and keep it in agricultural use.”
In the four years since the ACEP-ALE Program began, Connecticut has been a part of 20 parcel closings, for a total of over 1,800 acres protected.
“This property has been a priority for the town due to its excellent agricultural soils and location,” said Suffield First Selectman Melissa Mack. “The farm is ripe for development given that utilities are readily available and Interstate 91 is just minutes away. We thank the Bielonkos, the Department of Agriculture, and USDA/NRCS for working together to make the preservation of this farm a reality.”
The Farmland Preservation Program allows farmers to convey their property’s development rights to the state, but still own and work the land and contribute to the local tax base. Owners also may convey their land to others, but a permanent deed restriction assures the property will always remain available for agriculture.
More than 340 farms and 43,000 acres of farmland have been preserved under the program, including 12 farms this year.
Benny Bielonko said his family will use some of the proceeds from the preservation to purchase adjacent farmland that they have been leasing.
With his son Ben III playing a growing role in running the farm, Bielonko said the family’s plans for now are to continue their operation at about its current scale.
“We’re hoping to keep going as long as we can,” he said. “That would make me very happy.”
–Connecticut Department of Agriculture
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