'We get to keep the farm': The Touw family's worries yield to joy

Goshen. Jason and Kristen Touw credit the charitable organizations that inherited the farm they love for deciding to put aside other offers and choose them. They say they want to protect the environment, make fresh food available to the community, and raise their children here. They 12-year old daughter, Bailey, summed up the feelings of the entire family: “I’m both relieved and excited that I don’t have to move."

Goshen /
13 Feb 2020 | 03:55

The Touw family is pleased to announce that they’ll be staying on to live and work their beloved Wagon Wheel Farm.

The good news is that Jason and his wife, Kristen, have purchased the 58.1-acre farm located on Sarah Wells Trail in the town of Goshen. This news is so exciting for them and for the community, since at one point it seemed the family would be forced to move off the farmland to make way for a possible subdivision.

“It has been a battle, dealing with the inheritors of Joan Kozareski’s estate," said Jason. "I know it was a difficult decision for them to make, but we were hoping they would reflect on what this community needs. And they finally did."

The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, St. John’s Evangelist Catholic Church in Goshen, and the Hamptonburgh Cemetery inherited the 58-acre Wagon Wheel Farm, the 103-acre Overlook Farm in Hamptonburgh, and several million dollars when Kozareski died unexpectedly in 2018, at age 78.

“I want to thank the charitable organizations for making this decision,” said Kristen. "There probably were other offers on the table, but they chose us. Thank you."

The relationship between Kozareski and Jason began in September 2000, when he answered an ad to rent an apartment at the farm. Soon after, as was in his farm boy’s nature, Jason started growing vegetables, just a small patch at first. Over time, the garden grew in size, eventually covering 163 acres.

Jason and Kozareski worked well together, making improvements to the farm while Jason took on more farm work, like haying, adding hens to sell eggs, and building a farm stand to make farm produce available to the community.

Kristen always pitched in with farm chores. In fact, she rakes and teds hay, spreads chicken manure, and takes full charge of the greenhouse on the property.

Jason says he does “just what she tells me to do for the greenhouse.”

'A good fit for you'

Touw knew that Kozareski wanted to keep the farm going. At one time, she talked to Jason about taking it over.

“In 2013, she said, ‘You should buy me out. This is a good fit for you. You like this work,'" he said. "She assured me there would be a way.”

Additionally, during the time that they worked together growing a business, Kozareski signed documents applying for farm grants and wrote letters in support of the Touws, attesting to their good work ethics and knowledge of farming. Kozareski died before any talks were finalized.

As Jason points out, etched into Kozareski’s headstone is an exact replica of Overlook Farm, the idyllic farm where she was raised and continued to live until her death. Isn’t that a sign of her love of farm property?

But the decision about what would become of Wagon Wheel Farm and Overlook Farm was in the hands of the organizations that were named in Kozareski’s will.Ultimately they agreed to accept the Touw offer to purchase Wagon Wheel Farm.

Other good news is that Overlook Farm, located on Kozareski Lane in Hamptonburgh, will become a horse farm, leaving that farmland as beautiful open space.

Jason and Kristen acknowledge that getting approval to purchase the farm wasn’t only their doing. They’re thankful for all the community support they've received during this time of uncertainty.

“What happened here speaks volumes to how the region feels about protecting the environment and open space,” said Jason. “We believe this truly is not just our efforts. We received support from so many people and we’re grateful.”Said Jason, “It’s humbling to me to see people sign petitions, contact officials, make phone calls, all on our behalf.”

Kristen agrees. “We heard clearly that people want a family farm to stay here, as we did. I’m grateful to so many people for this support. I believe we have plenty to offer the community,” she said.

'We're here to stay'

As a condition of the sale, if the Touws sell the property within seven years, the profits will be returned to the charitable organizations named in the will. In exchange, they reached an agreement with the Touws for the sale, confident they’re not property flippers.

“We’re not worried about i t— we’re here to stay,” said Kristen. “We’re as transparent as we can be. We’re who we say we are. We want to be little farm with a farm stand, so people know where their food is coming from. We want to raise our children here.”

Jason said they're looking to have a farm here that’s in harmony with the environment.

"We always look at the impact on the environment; we make environmentally conscious decisions," he said.

Jason and Kristen Touw received assistance from Equity Trust, an organization founded by Warren Buffet to benefit farmers who need affordable farmland and who are interested in Farmland Preservation. They are currently in talks with Orange County Land Trust to keep Wagon Wheel Farm forever green.

The 58.1 acres of property has 1,500 feet of road frontage — more than other properties on Sarah Wells Trail.

“We want to preserve the bucolic atmosphere of the area,” said Kristen. “We surmounted a lot, and we’re happy so many people took this ride with us. We’re in a good place.”

Their 12-year old daughter, Bailey, summed up the feelings of the entire family: “I’m both relieved and excited that I don’t have to move, and we get to keep the farm.”

The family is also happy to be moving into the big farmhouse — the one facing the road, said Kristen.Community members interested in saving farmland can continue to help Wagon Wheel Farm by visiting the Farm Stand, open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sarah Wells Trail, featuring eggs, milk, breads, seasonal vegetables, hay and straw, or by visiting gofundme.com to Save Wagon Wheel Farm.

“We’re as transparent as we can be. We’re who we say we are. We want to be little farm with a farm stand, so people know where their food is coming from. We want to raise our children here.” --Kristen Touw