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New Boston-based conservation foundation to close

Union Leader Correspondent

December 13. 2017 12:10AM

Russell Farm and Forest Foundation Executive Director Ian McSweeney with Gordon and Barbara Russell. (COURTESY)

NEW BOSTON — The Russell Farm and Forest Foundation plans to stop its conservation work in June.

Executive Director Ian McSweeney, the foundation’s sole employee, said the foundation has run its course.

“It was set up as a private foundation where we were providing grant money and my time without cost,” McSweeney said. “Really, it was set up to meet a need for a time and it reached the end of that life so it is shutting down.”

Gordon Russell and Barbara Russell started the foundation with an endowment of several millions of dollars, McSweeney said, adding the exact amount is private.

McSweeney said the Russell Foundation was established in 2003 to provide professional guidance to landowners and land protection groups wanting to conserve their properties. Early on the foundation realized that conserving farmland and assisting with the transfer of farmland from an older farmer to a younger farmer was essential to preserving open space.

“The average age of farmers in New Hampshire is 64,” McSweeney said. “So, in many cases, it’s helping that retiring farmer, helping them sell the land and pass it onto a younger farmer. … In New England over 85 percent of the active farms don’t have a succession plan in place.”

When the foundation was started 14 years ago most land conservation efforts in New Hampshire did not focus on farmland, but on forestland, natural resources and water preservation. There has been a shift toward understanding farmland as important open space to preserve, and the Russell Foundation is proud of the role it played in raising farmland as a conservation priority, McSweeney said.

“The Russell Foundation and many of the organizations we have worked with are quite happy with and motivated by the results of farmland work, in part because there was a real need that was not being met in New Hampshire so there’s satisfaction in the result, in the work, and in the foundation and great pride in the fact that the work we have done has raised the priority of farmland conservation in New Hampshire,” McSweeney said.

Out of its New Boston location, the Russell Foundation worked directly with 65 land conservation groups to successfully complete 60 farm projects and in doing so protected over 12,000 acres and raised more than $16,000,000 for those projects, which were all aimed at providing the benefits to farmland and families living in more than 40 townships in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. McSweeney said funding conducted by the foundation was per project; there was never any fundraising to keeping the foundation running beyond the expenditure of the initial endowment.

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