Oakridge Dairy, owned by the Bahler family, conveyed the development rights to 125.7 acres of the farm, where corn and hay are grown to support its herd of approximately 4,000 cows. More than 90 percent of the land, along Abbott and Middle roads near the East Windsor line, contains prime and statewide important farmland soils.
Preservation of the farmland was accomplished through a cost-sharing partnership with the state Department of Agriculture, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Town of Ellington.
“Ellington has considerable working lands that contribute greatly to Connecticut agriculture,” Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said. “We are pleased to work with the Bahlers and partner with the town and the USDA on this important project.”
The 125 acres was considered highly susceptible to non-agricultural development because it is relatively flat and clear and is located in an area that has seen significant home construction in recent years.
“Hopefully, neighboring farms will see the value of farmland preservation and begin thinking about doing the same thing,” said Thomas L. Morgart, NRCS State Conservationist. “That area is full of well-drained, fertile soil and this is a perfect way to make sure it stays that way forever.”
Ellington Town Planner Lisa Houlihan said farming is iconic to Ellington, and preservation of farmland is one of the town’s most important long-range planning goals.
“As a municipal official, I know how crucial state and federal support is to meeting planning objectives,” Houlihan said. “I’m thankful for continued support and delighted to add Oakridge Dairy to other farmland permanently preserved in Ellington through joint partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.”
The farm has been in the Bahler family since the 1800s, and was formerly known as Bahler Farms. Nearby Oakridge Dairy was purchased in the 1970s, and the family recently decided to make that the name of their entire operation.
Encompassing about 2,800 acres in Ellington and Somers, the farm supplies milk to Guida’s Dairy processing facility in New Britain, which is part of the Dairy Farmers of America co-op. About half of the farm’s 4,000 cows are available for milking on a given day.
The Bahler family plans to use the proceeds from the conveyance to purchase more cropland to support its operations, said Seth Bahler, head of the farm’s management team that oversees a staff of about 40 employees.
Bahler, 26, is the son of Ron Bahler, one of the farm’s four family owners. He began working at the farm about two years ago after selling a construction business he started upon graduating from high school.
Seth Bahler said that he and the management team have spent the last two years updating and “redefining everything” about the farm. Protecting the 125 acres through the state program is part of their plan of succession to the next generations of Bahlers.
The family is now exploring diversifying their operation to perhaps include milk processing and agri-tourism.
Bahler said they were pleasantly shocked when they held a little-advertised open house in September that drew about 1,000 visitors.
“That really got us thinking that we should consider diversifying,” he said. “We’re surrounded by people here and we want to find a way to tap into that.”
Oakridge is the eighth farm to be protected under the state program this year. Ten farms have been preserved in Ellington under the program since 1981, including the Kaminski, Pinney, Pease, Lanz, Culbro, DoJo, Myers and Charter farms.