UPDATE October 29, 2020: Thanks to the generous outpouring of support from the community, today MHLC has committed to purchasing the Bender Melon Farm property. The closing is planned for the end of November. We are so thankful to the Bender family for providing a match that helped position us to move forward with the purchase. There is still a need to raise $28,113 for immediate costs and we are confident we can reach this goal before closing. Once the sale is completed, we plan to engage the community in exploring ideas for the future of this unique property.
Just before his passing, Matthew Bender, a strong supporter and guiding force for MHLC, asked us to create a challenge to assist in raising funds for the Bender Melon Farm project. In remembrance of Matt and his passion for the Bender Melon Farm project, the Bender family has created a challenge to help us reach our fundraising goal. Every dollar donated, up to $50,000, will be matched through October 29, 2020.
New Scotland’s Bender Melons
At the intersection of Routes 85 and 85A in the Town of New Scotland remains 198 acres of historic farmland. At the turn of the twentieth century this land was made famous by Charles Bender whose Bender Melon, a prized cantaloupe variety he developed and cultivated, put this property on the agricultural map. Charles leased these prime agricultural lands from his father who had been growing hay, oats, and Indian corn on the fields, as had farmers before him. Charles farmed these lands on his own for more than four decades, developing several dozen varieties of melon and becoming a local icon. Some New Scotlanders still share fond stories and memories of the sprawling farm and the delicious melons, which were sold retail both at the farm and as far away as New York City.
Although there was incredible success for Charles in his melon endeavors, he had no heirs to pass on his legacy. In 1939 William Taylor, a dairyman in Glenmont, purchased the farm from Charles Bender. William Taylor continued the Bender tradition for a time, and grew melons under Charles’ supervision, but after several seasons could not turn a profit and turned his attention solely to raising cows. In 1976, Taylor sold the farm and the era of the Bender melon was over. After changing hands several times, the farm fell into disarray. Today the property is leased for agricultural use to offset property taxes while it awaits the next chapter in its history.
In 2008, the property was the site of a contentious community struggle over the future of the land. The possible development of a big box store on the farm brought out huge public opposition. Determination to keep it out of large-scale commercial development resulted in re-zoning. The land has since remained for sale.
The future of the Bender Melon farm remains uncertain. There is the threat of it becoming the next site for a large residential development, joining more than two hundred homes already approved in the vicinity. A parcel of this size could support several hundred additional new homes in our community, leading to a substantial strain on town infrastructure, particularly on the roads and schools. Zoning for the property allows a mix of residential and commercial uses, but a lack of infrastructure limits this vision.
The impact of such a development on our natural community is great. The headwaters of the Philipinkill originate on these lands and then run through the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center and several MHLC preserves before eventually emptying into the Hudson River. Construction of this scope would have a significant negative impact on water quality and groundwater hydrology, thus affecting the stream, our local wetlands, and vernal pool pockets. Also, by preserving this landscape, we can conserve one of the iconic landscapes of Albany County, while preserving habitat for insects, birds, and other animals to live and thrive as well as vital wildlife corridors in the age of global warming. (LEARN MORE)
Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has the opportunity to save Bender Melon Farm. Through careful negotiations, we are poised to purchase the property, but we need your help! We have just one year to raise the funds needed to save this farm.
To complete the project and fully preserve the farm forever, we need to raise $1.2 million from the community. This work is urgent—if we do not raise the funds, the Bender Melon Farm will be unprotected and vulnerable to sale and residential development.
Please pledge your support and ensure that this vital land is protected for future generations, forever preserving the legacy of farming in the Town of New Scotland. Your help will make a difference—today, and for future generations. Thank you!
The previous update on Bender Melon Farm:
Find out about the history of the Bender Melon Farm by downloading Dennis Sullivan’s Charles Bender and the Bender Melon Farm: A Local History