More than 200 acres protected for agriculture in Deerfield’s North Meadows

Protected farmland owned by the Antonellis family in the North Meadows in Deerfield.

Protected farmland owned by the Antonellis family in the North Meadows in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-15-2024 5:00 PM

DEERFIELD — With the execution of two separate conservation restrictions by Historic Deerfield and the Antonellis family, more than 200 acres of land in Deerfield will remain permanently accessible for agriculture.

In early May, Historic Deerfield completed a conservation restriction on 47.9 acres in the North Meadows and then at the beginning of this month, Michael and Jennifer Antonellis, of Antonellis Farm, executed a conservation restriction on 166 acres of their land. Both conservation restrictions were the result of working with the Franklin Land Trust, with the support of donors and a grant from an anonymous foundation.

At Historic Deerfield, President and CEO John Davis said conservation is the goal of the museum, noting the museum’s restrictions on four historic homes, as well as its collection of artifacts, but a land conservation is a first.

“Preservation is what is the core of our mission as an institution and that includes architecture, it includes land and it includes our collection of our antiques; it’s in our DNA,” Davis said. “Ensuring that modern buildings cannot ever be built on these areas and the view remains open and uncluttered is really important.”

Franklin Land Trust Director of Land Conservation Alain Peteroy said the conservation restriction will ensure the land will be agriculturally viable for generations to come, while also allowing the forested, wetlands portion of the land to play a role in protecting the watershed and mitigating flooding.

“Every acre of valuable farm soils that [Franklin Land Trust] can be part of protecting is one more acre where food can be grown for our neighbors and friends, and that is very gratifying,” Peteroy said in a statement.

With the pair of conservation restrictions, Davis said they are about halfway toward their goal of 100% conservation of Deerfield’s meadows. While critically important for Deerfield’s agriculture production, the meadows are also historically significant, as their use dates back hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years with Indigenous people and then English colonists.

Davis explained that when colonists laid out Deerfield’s 43 house lots along Main Street, there were also 43 thin strips of farmland laid out for those families, where they could farm — thin strips meant farmers didn’t need to take on the difficult task of turning their oxen more than once or twice — and those strips of land are still visible on property maps.

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“That 17th-century imprint of land is still there,” Davis explained, noting that the museum is committed to keeping agricultural production on this land. “In spite of the fact that they are some of the most fertile lands in North America, they are also some of the most historic.”

Historic Deerfield’s parcels, Davis said, look “pretty much as they would have looked in the 17th and 18th century, at least in their use agriculturally and the open space they provide.”

“We will continue to lease out our acreage to local farmers,” Davis added. “That’s what we’ve always done and the conservation restriction allows us to continue doing that, and in fact, it encourages us to.”

As an added historical tie-in, the North Meadows area was also the site of a battle between the English and the war party that led the Feb. 29, 1704 attack on Deerfield.

In bringing this land into permanent protection, Davis said the museum is also exploring expanding some of its educational programs out toward the meadows with walking tours, which will allow people to see the land as it is used currently, while learning about its historical significance.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.