This video is the fourth in a series of cultural landscape videos produced by the National Park Service (NPS) Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (OCLP). The video is made possible through the efforts of Vanessa Hartsuiker, a digital media production intern with OCLP, in partnership with the American Conservation Experience.
To view more videos in the series click here.
Megan O’Malley: Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is about Lindenwald, the mansion that the president occupied right after his presidency ended. There are a couple of components to the landscape. There’s the core historic part, which is the area including the historic mansion and the grounds immediately adjacent to it. The majority of the park are agricultural fields, the majority of the park is actually not owned by the National Park Service, which is extraordinary and appropriate.
Jennifer Hanna: Of the almost 300 acres that comprise the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, less than twenty percent is owned by the National Park Service. Instead, much of the land is owned by Roxbury Farm, a CSA. The agricultural management guidelines were produced by the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation as a collaborative tool. They describe sustainable agricultural methods, as well as strategies for protecting resources and helping to engage visitors through active farming.
Patricia West McKay: The Agricultural Management Guidelines help inform park management about agriculture. We don’t come here with that training and that knowledge, so it gives us a tool that we can use to familiarize ourselves with not just agriculture generally, but this specific kind of agriculture. It’s a vital tool, otherwise you’d have management coming here without a lot of knowledge of how this park is a little different than other parks they may have encountered.
Jean-Paul Courtens: It’s an interesting coincidence, I grew up in Amsterdam, Holland, I’m Dutch and here I was on the one Dutch speaking president’s estate and farming his former estate. I got interested in reading about it and I think one of the things that truly interested me was that the sustainable agriculture movement as we know it today, was really born around that time in the 1850s.
Megan O’Malley: He was what would have been referred to as a progressive farmer, meaning he was really concerned with techniques that preserved the fertility and health of the soil in the long term. We have the great fortune to work with a fantastic agricultural collaborator, Roxbury Farm.
Jean-Paul Courtens: Roxbury Farm in an integrated farm, where we have livestock and we grow vegetables and we produce those for a community of about 1,500 families in New York, Westchester County, Columbia County, and the Capital District.
Jennifer Hanna: The Guidelines help to facilitate collaboration between the National Park Service, Roxbury Farm, and the Open Space Institute, who holds a conservation easement on the farmland.
Katie Petronis: The Open Space Institute is a national conservation organization, which is focused on conserving open space, scenic preservation, habitat, water quality, and also farm and forest land. Farmland preservation is important here, because in Columbia County in the past fifty years, we’ve lost more than half of the farmland and particularly here where the soils are so rich, that’s such an important resource and it’s so hard to get back once it’s gone. Once you’ve built over, it’s much, much more difficult to take things down and rebuild those soils. It’s very hard to do, if not impossible.
Jean-Paul Courtens: Unless we become much better farmers than we are right now, it’s going to be very difficult to feed the population. So, while feeding the world might sound like a very old slogan, the reality is that if we have no land, we simply can’t feed people. So, it’s very important that we take care of farmland, we protect farmland, we don’t build on it, so also we can sustain future generations on this farm.
Megan O’Malley: This agricultural land has been in active use for hundreds and hundreds of years. The only way you could do that is to plan for the long term. That’s at the core of what Van Buren was trying to do, for very different reasons, but the farm today is planning for the long term health of this soil, for the long term fertility of this soil, so that it can stay active for generations into the future.
Megan O’Malley is the Superintendent of the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Jennifer Hanna is the author of the Martin Van Buren Agricultural Guidelines
Patricia West McKay is the Curator and Historian at the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
Jean-Paul Courtens is the Owner, Manager, and Farmer of Roxbury Farm
Katie Petronis is the Northern Program Director of the Open Space Institute