Tim and Claudia Ferrell are a great example of small farm owners who are taking steps to protect their farmland from future commercial development. Customers of all ages enjoy the taste of just-picked strawberries on their 40-acre organic farm in Brighton, Colorado. When they bought their property in 1998, they were relatively new to farming. (Previously, Tim leased a plot of land until the owner sold the farm to developers, who like flat farmland since it’s easy to divide into housing lots.) Tim and Claudia decided to protect their new farm by entering into a binding agreement with Adams County. "It's a purchased agricultural conservation easement," explains Tim. "We can't sell this farm for development. It can't be rezoned. Even after we die, this land will always be agricultural."
Farmers who enter into a purchased easement retain ownership of their land, and they receive a cash payment and tax credits in return. For these reasons, easements are an attractive option for farmers.
According to the nonprofit American Farmland Trust (AFT), two acres of American agricultural land are sold every minute for development. Don Buckloh, farmland information specialist at AFT, says, “Agricultural conservation easements are a growing trend to combat this problem. Approximately 2.2 million acres are protected for agricultural use by purchased land easements in this country today. And that doesn’t account for farmland protected by other types of easements or lands protected for other uses.” As of January 2009, AFT estimates that more than 5,400 new applications are under consideration.
Along with protecting their land from development, many farmers are choosing to incorporate other sustainable agriculture practices on their farms. Farms that involve and benefit the community, one of the goals of sustainable agriculture, are popping up across the country. U-pick farms, like the Ferrells’, give young and old the opportunity to work the farm for a day. Tim and Claudia feel it’s good for little ones to see firsthand how things grow and that food doesn’t just materialize in grocery stores.
Some Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are run with the help of their members, who in return reap the benefits of their labor. The members of Eastside Egg Co-operative on Zenger Farm in Portland, Oregon, work shifts at the farm tending to the hens and coop. The members share the eggs, while the farm, also protected by an easement, receives fertilizer from the chickens. Other CSAs, such as Sunfield Farm’s Food Share in Port Hadlock, Washington, offer educational programs in addition to fresh food. Participants pledge 4 hours of farm work per week, a time when they’ll also learn about growing their own food. Each week they leave with a box of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Lands protected by easements don’t necessarily need a CSA or U-pick program to benefit the community. Plenty of farms have chosen to simply protect their land. Regardless of their chosen avenue, farmers all over the country are striving to ensure a bright future for their communities. To find a CSA or U-pick farm near you, see our list below or visit www.localharvest.org.CSAs and U-pick farms protected by easements:
• Redwood Roots Farm, Bayside, California
• Good Humus Farm, Capay, California
• Berry Patch Farms, Brighton, Colorado
• Zenger Farm, Portland, Oregon
• Sunfield Farm, Port Hadlock, Washington