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After Farm Investment Led to Lawsuit, Two Sides Agree to Settle

photo of rolling farm
Aaron Eidman
/

A wealthy New York philanthropist and an Antrim-based farm consultant accused of financial mismanagement are settling a civil lawsuit filed in federal court.

In January, Joshua Rechnitz sued Bob Bernstein, a longtime agricultural steward in the Monadnock region. Rechnitz invested more than $3 million in two farms in upstate New York that were organized and operated by Bernstein.

[Click here to read NHPR's previous coverage of this story.]

Rechnitz alleged that Bernstein spent frivolously on equipment and farm upgrades, generating management fees for himself, while misleading Rechnitz about the financial viability of the farms.

Bernstein denied the allegations, contending that Rechnitz failed to do his proper due diligence about the risks of investing in farms. 

In a negotiated settlement, Bernstein doesn’t admit any wrongdoing. 

Bernstein “regrets that this dispute ended up in litigation and any negative impact this matter may have had on the farmers and their communities,” according to an agreed upon statement included in the settlement agreement.

Under the terms of the deal, Bernstein is also giving up his ownership shares in both farms, including Arrowhead, a 271-acre dairy farm in Kerhonkson, NY that Rechnitz purchased in 2018. 

“The settlement we have reached is a major step forward for the critically important work of farmland preservation and sustainable agriculture in the Northeast and nationally,” said Luke Nikas, Rechnitz’s attorney. “Josh Rechnitz is pleased with this successful outcome and looks forward to continuing his support for these projects and community-based farming.”

Bernstein operates both a for-profit entity called NEFA 1, as well as a New Hampshire-based non-profit called Northeast Farm Access. Under their settlement, Bernstein will remove all mentions of the two farms from his website, and is forbidden from using their images in any marketing materials.

Bernstein continues to manage a farm in Marlborough, as well as one in Unity, Maine. His model involves raising money from investors to purchase farm land that is considered at risk of development. He then signs long-term leases with tenant farmers, while generating small profits for his financial backers. 

Last summer, he was fined by New Hampshire security regulators for failing to properly register the sale of $50,000 in promissory notes.

His lawyers didn’t respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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