The Hicks family proved they deserve a piece of the pie  — the pie being $35 million in state funds going to farmland preservation.

The Hicks Farm has produced just about everything that can be grown in these parts over its 200-plus history: cherries, peaches, plums, oats, corn, wheat, walnuts —  to name a few.

The Hicks family has also raised a slew of livestock on their 83-acre property, including pigs, sheep, goats, chicken, cattle, and horses. Currently, much of the farm’s acreage is pasture for a dozen beef cattle and fields for growing hay. The farm off Coye Road also boasts orchards and five acres of vineyard, with its concord and Riesling grapes going to wine and juice producers.

But while the operation has sustained the family for generations — it was founded by ancestors of Mary Hicks, whose mother was a Coye —  it is also situated above Canandaigua Lake, a prime target area for developers. In fact, the controversial Ketmar luxury-home development is proposed for land just south of the Hicks Farm.

There is no danger of Irwin and Mary Hicks selling out, though. Their farm was picked to be one of 35 farms in the state to share in $35 million for farmland protection through Albany’s Agricultural and Farmland Protection Program. The funding is the largest dollar amount ever dedicated for farmland preservation and will go to protect 13,300 acres — the largest single amount of acreage in the program’s 11-year history, according to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office.

The Hicks Farm will receive $461,599 in exchange for the town holding a conservation easement on the property. As part of the process, two appraisals were made to determine the value of the conservation easement. One is the present market value of the property, the other a farmland valuation. The difference between the two is the value of the easement. The farmer is paid with grant money, and the town holds the easement.

The conservation easement “will mean there will be no buildings or development on the property, other than agriculture buildings,” said Irwin. He and Mary are retired, for the most part, and have passed the farm onto their children. Their son, Jim, heads up the operation and plans to expand the farm’s grape production, said Irwin.

“This is a win for everybody,” said Town Supervisor Lloyd Kinnear.

Town officials and the Hickses began talking about a conservation easement months ago. The application the town submitted in September outlined many reasons the Hicks Farm would be a good choice. Among them: It has partnered with the town and Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District to ensure its activities don’t harm water quality. That effort included help paying for installation of a grassed waterway to control drainage. The Hickses also worked with the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Alliance on a gully cleanup that involved collecting and disposing of refuse and seeding and putting down straw to prevent erosion. 

The Hicks Farm will be the only one in Ontario County to share in the state money for farmland preservation.

Other farms in the Finger Lakes region sharing $7.4 million are in Seneca, Cayuga, Tompkins and Yates counties. In Yates, the grant will give $1 million to preserve Henderson Farms in Penn Yan. Under that arrangement, the county will partner with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect the 457-acre cash crop, hay and vegetable operation. 

According to the governor’s office, the state has 35,000 farms covering 7.6 million acres. Since 1996, the state has allocated more than $144.5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund for farmland protection projects to protect 63,700 acres on 276 farms.

Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at jsherwood@mpnewspapers.com.