Wading River Farmers Conserve Land for ‘Future Generations’

Wading River, farmers, farm, conserve
Strawberry rows at Condzella Farm in Wading River will continue to grow thanks to a conservation easement that ensures the land will be safe from development.
Courtesy of Peconic Land Trust

Nearly 24 acres of Wading River farmland along Route 25A has been preserved from development, thanks to a “multi-pronged effort” that included the willingness of the farming families to sell, community donations and $3.946 million in funding from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, according to the Peconic Land Trust, which put together the deals.

“We are so pleased to be able to celebrate this wonderful farmland conservation,” John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust, said in a statement on Monday, May 13. The nonprofit organization has worked to conserve 14,000 acres on Long Island over the last 41 years.

“Our sincere thanks go to Governor Kathy Hochul, our Senate and Assembly delegation, and the Department of Agriculture and Markets for the funding of programs that enable farmland protection. Also, to the many donors who participated and have clearly said that agriculture is an important part of our community,” he continued.

“We also thank John and Bill Zoumas and Ginny and John Condzella for seeing the value of agriculture and for their willingness to conserve land for future generations,” Halsey added.

The process began in December 2023 when the Land Trust acquired a conservation easement, or the development rights, on the Zoumas farmland, a total of 8.5 acres. The easement restricts the use of the land for agricultural purposes and eliminates the possibility of residential or commercial development.

The Zoumas property on Route 25A would have been developed had various conservation easements not been purchased.Courtesy of the Peconic Land Trust

The New York State Farmland Protection Program, under the Environmental Protection Fund and administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets, supplied $2 million in funding, the first time the state ever funded an acquisition of such an easement when a commercial site plan approval was already in place.

Known as “Central Square,” a commercial development of four buildings for retail and office use, each about 10,000 square feet, as well a 4,250-square-foot bank with a drive-through and a 5,300-square-foot restaurant was approved for the property, according to RiverheadLOCAL. The Riverhead Planning Board approved the site plan in February 2020.

About nine acres already had been preserved in a conservation easement purchased by Riverhead Town, but 8.5 acres remained.

Plus, the Land Trust pointed out John and Bill Zoumas’ willingness to sell the remaining acres at what was called “a bargain sale.”

The latest easement was also purchased using donations from the community.

In early March 2024, the trust reached an agreement with Ginny and John Condzella to conserve 15 acres of land that they farm on Route 25A, also at “a bargain sale.” The purchase of this conservation easement came from donations from the community along with the $1.946 million in grant funds from the state’s Ag and Markets program.

The Condzellas then used their proceeds to purchase the farmland – with the conservation easement in place — from the Zoumases in mid-March 2024.

Both of the purchases were part of the trust’s Wading River Initiative fundraising campaign, which culminated in $305,000 in donations in the spring of 2022. A total of 38 acres will end up being protected when all three of the projects included in the Wading River Initiative are completed. The acreage includes the nine acres under the town’s easement on the Zoumas property, as well as six acres of the former Barra property that will be protected later this summer.

The state’s funding came from Round 18 of the Farmland Protection Implementation Grants, which were announced in May of 2021. To be eligible, matching funds through donations and a bargain sale were required, the Land Trust explained.

Wading River, farmers, farm, conserve
The Condzella farmland, as seen in 2020Courtesy of Peconic Land Trust

“Our farmland is one of the most important natural resources we have,” State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said in a statement. “As the foundation for our food supply, it’s critical that we continue to protect our land and our rich soils so our farmers can continue to grow our food, strengthen our local food systems, plan for the future, and play an integral part in our fight against climate change. I’m grateful for our partnership with land trusts across the state like the Peconic Land Trust as well as all the farmers participating in this program who are pushing this mission forward and working hard to keep our precious farmland safe from development.”

“While growing up in Wading River I have seen a lot of things change over the years, but the one thing that has never changed is my love for our family farm, and the desire to preserve it forever,” John Condzella said.

“It wasn’t easy, and at times I thought that it would be impossible, but through perseverance and the help of the Peconic Land Trust I finally have achieved my goal. While many things have changed in Wading River, the one thing that will remain forever, and almost the same as when my grandfather started it over one hundred years ago, is Condzella’s Farm,” he said. “Thank you, Peconic Land Trust, and everyone who contributed to this effort.”

Meanwhile, John Zoumas, a lifelong Wading River resident, said he and his brother Bill have “closed a 25-year chapter on the farmland preservation endeavors presented to us through the Peconic Land Trust.”

He thanked the Peconic Land Trust senior project manager Julie Wesnofske for her “hard work and perseverance.”

“We are thrilled to be able to play a role in seeing this farmland forever protected for agriculture and reconnected to the Condzella family, who have farmed in the area for over 100 years,” Wesnofske offered. “I initially started working with the family in the early 2000s on conservation strategies for the farm — for me, it’s incredibly gratifying to see this come to fruition and I wish only the best for Ginny, John and their family in the future farming endeavors. It’s also been a pleasure to work with John and Bill Zoumas and their attorney Pete Danowski, and to make these connections. We thank them for being part of Wading River’s agricultural future.”

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