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Ridgeview Farm – 118 Acres Protected

View of Ridgeview FarmBrandon Hensley has no illusions about farm life in WNC — it’s hard work, with sparse financial rewards. However, a deep connection to his family’s land kept him working with SAHC over the lengthy 5-year process to permanently protect a beautiful, productive farm in an area pinched by increasing residential development.

In March 2019, we closed on the conservation easement protecting the 118-acre Ridgeview Farm in Buncombe County. Located just 2 miles from our Community Farm, this historic homestead farm contains a high percentage of agriculturally important soils. Brandon, a young farmer in his mid-30s, is carrying on his family’s legacy as the 5th generation to work this land.

Landowner farmer and NCADFP representative at closing.“I owe it to my family,” he shares. “My main goal was just to keep the heart of the farm together. My grandparents’ homeplace is here.”

Although the original log cabin is long gone, Brandon remembers it as a child, growing up with a close connection to his grandparents and the land.

“I think my grandfather would be very happy,” he continues. “My grandparents farmed for a living – that was their life. I wanted to do the conservation easement so that this land will stay this way – it will be protected forever. ”

Cattle at Ridgeview FarmCurrently used for hay and cattle production, the NC Century Farm was formerly the site of dairy operations. The family contacted SAHC about a conservation easement because they wanted to keep the land in the family, continue to farm it, and protect it from development.

“In the next few years, if building keeps going as it is, there won’t be any farms left around Asheville,” adds Hensley.

The protected farm tract contains 93% important agricultural soils, which are a precious commodity in the mountains.

Alternate view of Ridgeview Farm“Alexander is a rare gem in WNC, containing a much higher concentration of important agricultural soils than the surrounding region,” says Farmland Program Director Jess Laggis. “But it is also disproportionately under development pressure due to its ease of access from Asheville, the relative ease of development on low-lying bottomlands, and the undeniable beauty of the mountain views from its rolling hills.  And yet, despite these pressures, Alexander remains a relatively intact farming community.  Only time can tell, but Alexander has the potential to provide a model for sustainable food production with residential areas in close proximity to productive farms.  All of these factors make it an important and fascinating place to focus farmland preservation efforts.  I am deeply grateful to Brandon Hensley and the Bridges family for their commitment to conservation and their decision to protect this property forever.”

This project was made possible with grant funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, NC Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, Buncombe County, and the Conservation Trust for NC, in addition to support from SAHC members, a generous gift by Brad and Shelli Stanback, and donation of a substantial portion of the easement value and stewardship contribution from the landowners.

Thank you to all our members for making this farmland conservation success possible!

Rogers Cove – 385 Acres

Hugged by mountains and tucked away in the scenic Crabtree community of Haywood County, Rogers Cove contains beautiful rolling pastures and forested hills that stir the imagination. We have permanently protected 385 acres of productive, scenic farmland in this cove through agricultural conservation easements.

“The Rogers family has farmed this land for at least four generations and wanted to see it stay farmland forever, which is why they protected their land with SAHC through agricultural easements,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s Farmland Protection Director. “Beyond all the beauty and ecosystem services this land protection provides, it also supports some of the kindest farmers you could meet in maintaining our mountain farming heritage.”

Highly visible from scenic drives along Crabtree Mountain Rd and Upper Crabtree Road, as well as from hikes on Crabtree Bald, conserved land in this picturesque cove is made up of multiple adjoining tracts owned by members of the Rogers family. The family has farmed this cove for more than 150 years. The Rogers Cove properties include a mixture of high elevation cattle grazing pasture and prime agricultural bottomlands, and both the Mark Rogers and the Terry & Fran Rogers properties have been designated as Century Farms by the state of NC.

“Rogers Cove makes time travel possible,” says SAHC Farmland Protection Director Jess Laggis. “Walking through Rogers Cove feels like a step back in time, but in it, I also see the future. I know that in 10 years, or even 50, when I look back at the farmland protection work SAHC has accomplished, Rogers Cove will always stay a vibrant memory.  This is one of the first farmland protection projects that I was lucky enough to get to work on, and I am so grateful to be able to play a small role in protecting it.”

Family members Edwin & Lucene (Cenie) Rogers, Mark & Laura Rogers, and Terry & Fran Rogers worked together with us to protect their adjoining properties. Sadly, Edwin passed away in 2017, before he saw completion of this effort; we are deeply grateful that the family was able to continue working with SAHC to permanently protect the land.

Edwin Rogers, who was designated a River Friendly Farmer by the Haywood County Soil & Water Conservation District, farmed in Rogers Cove his whole life. Edwin and his son Mark worked closely together to keep the farm in excellent condition by installing stream-side fencing and water tanks and using rotational grazing practices. Terry Rogers also installed best management practices on his farm to protect water quality of streams in the Pigeon River watershed. The Pigeon River Fund, a grant program administered by The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, provided support for this project.

Terry — who has been president  of the Haywood County Farm Bureau, Treasurer of the Haywood County Cattlemen’s Association, and president of the WNC Beef Cattle Commission — has also farmed in Rogers Cove his whole life. Terry inherited the property from his parents Cassius McCracken Rogers and Pauline Noland Rogers who worked the land all their lives. His mother was the granddaughter of famed community doctor and banker Rachel Eleanor Ferguson Noland, a pioneering woman who traded livestock, farmed, and worked in her loomhouse to make a living for her family. Eleanor served as a community doctor, taking her little black satchel with her when neighbors asked her to come and “doctor” their sick. She also served as a community banker, loaning money out to neighbors so they could buy a farm, build a house, or pay their bills, collecting a little interest in return. Most of these folks had no collateral, so could not qualify for a formal loan from an established bank. Eleanor enabled many families to have their own home.

The Rogers Cove land in Crabtree Community was originally purchased by family ancestor John H. Rogers almost 200 years ago. Son of Revolutionary War soldier and pioneer Hugh Rogers and Nancy Thornton Rogers of Fines Creek, John married Mary “Polly” McCracken of Upper Crabtree. He purchased property which became known as Rogers Cove in the Crabtree area, and the land was later passed on to various descendants.

“I’ve worked this land all my life,” Terry said, “working with both my paternal and maternal grandparents, as well as my own parents. I’ve seen the hard work my ancestors put into being good stewards of the properties, never holding a public job, but depending on  the farm and woodland to make a living for their families. Like them, I have tried to be a good steward of what God has blessed me with, and I don’t want this beautiful property turned into a housing development in the future. Now that its protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, that won’t ever happen.”

We are grateful to all of SAHC’s members, the Rogers family, The Pigeon River Fund, Brad and Shelli Stanback, and the NC Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund for protecting this historically important, thriving farm. Thank you!

Landowner Perspective: Mark Rogers

“There were three basic things which prompted our family to preserve this farm land. Foremost, the belief that protecting farmland is important for future generations. Also there is the sentimental factor for protecting property that has been in the family for a long time. And last, just the aesthetics’ of farm land vs. a subdivision.

This land today is a summation of all of what my ancestors have invested into it over the past 4+ generations. I think of the clearing of the timber to make areas to seed into hay fields and pastures for their livestock. You try to understand how that supported their milk cows and horses, which in turn supported their existence. Also the hard work with axes, cross cut saws, horses, etc. — “the good, hard old days”.

This land is still used as it was with my early ancestors and I would hate to see that change to another use that would not complement and build on what’s already gone into it. I am also sensitive to farmland reduction in the past 100 yrs and how that can effect food sustainability. When I came along, horses were still used for light work like cultivating tobacco but tractors had taken over the heavy work like plowing the corn land. I remember the talk about how you had to feed a work horse “a plenty” if you expected it to plow all day. Thus a lot of the corn grown was used back as feed fuel for the work horses. Conservation of energy makes sense considering it takes the same amount of corn energy as diesel energy to plow a furrow. I think of how hard it was to plow up and rotate crops every other year with legumes to get nitrogen into the soil because there was no petroleum based fertilizer. So if there continues to be less acreage and petroleum (being a finite resource for plant food); farmland will only continue to be more important in the future.

I truly relished the lifestyle offered by growing up on a farm and having relatives and good neighbors all around. As children we were free to roam without any concerns of safety. When I was 4 yrs old I remember deciding to run away from home — for no apparent reason. It was a sunny winter morning where the overnight frost was just melting as I trudged through the woods to the ridgeline between our house and my grandparents. I walked down to a barn where my uncle was sacking up silage and when I told him I was running away he did not even look up but told me to go by and say goodbye to my grandmother before I left. So when I walked up to her house and told her, all she said was to have a sausage biscuit before I left. Somehow, I forgot that I was running away.

Also I watch as adjacent farms are sold and developed. I see how the dynamics of “community” of the people change with it.

I want my actions to continue to be a good steward of this property in the same fashion my ancestors did.

Farmland Conservation and Clean Water

Site visit in Rogers Cove (L to R): Alison Davidson (Pigeon River Fund committee member), Laura Rogers (Landowner), Jess Laggis (SAHC), Tara Scholtz (CFWNC), and Dyatt Smathers (Pigeon River Fund committee member).

“One focus of the Pigeon River Watershed Plan is reducing development density on steep mountain slopes,” says Tara Scholtz, Senior Program Officer with The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC).

“Reducing development density means fewer roads, house sites, driveways, and other structures and infrastructure that negatively affect the watershed. Reducing density also reduces the number and size of impervious surfaces in the watershed and the associated stormwater runoff.  Farmland conservation is one of the plan’s specific strategies for reducing development density, but transactions to conserve farmland often take time. The Pigeon River Fund was pleased to assist SAHC in protecting hundreds of acres of Rogers Cove agricultural land that would otherwise undoubtedly be a target for future development.”

Flatwoods Pastures

We purchased 146 acres at Flatwoods Pastures in the Crabtree Community of Haywood County, protecting significant acreage for continued grazing.  The high elevation tract combines productive agricultural land with valuable wildlife habitat and breathtaking scenic views. It connects with our Garret Cove property in Sandy Mush  and the recently purchased Little Creek Headwaters tract, a beautiful forested cove in Bald Creek Valley.

“Flatwoods Pasture bridges the Sandy Mush agricultural community and Bald Creek/Crabtree agricultural community,” said Farmland Program Director William Hamilton. Read more

Blue Ridge Forever awarded $8 million for farmland

Local land trusts secure unprecedented $8 million dollars for farmland conservation in Western North Carolina

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) recently announced 2017 funding allocations from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which included an unprecedented $8 million awarded for farmland conservation in Western North Carolina. This award for the Blue Ridge Forever coalition’s project “Forever Farms; Easements at the Eminence” will be used to protect working agricultural land and clean water sources across the region.

“This funding allocation is unique because of its size, and because it is directed specifically for the protection of important soils as well as clean water sources for our regional watersheds,” said Executive Director Carl Silverstein. “We have successfully used federal funding to accomplish significant farmland conservation projects over the past decade, and this new allocation opens the door for us to work with willing landowners to protect some of the most crucial, large contiguous tracts of farmland remaining in the mountains. This is an incredible success, reflecting well on the perseverance and dedicated, collaborative efforts of the Blue Ridge Forever partners ” 

The partnering Blue Ridge Forever land trusts plan to use the federally allocated funding to protect mountain farms from a change in land use through voluntary agricultural conservation easements. Agricultural conservation easements protect farmland and rare prime soils for food security for future generations, while also protecting the cultural heritage, scenic vistas, and farm-to-table establishments that drive tourism to the region. However, the benefits of this new funding will reach much further than the mountains. The nine river basins emanating from the WNC region contain the headwater sources for drinking water for millions of people throughout the Southeastern United States.

“We are thrilled to bring this allocation to Western North Carolina to keep mountain farms farming, and gratified the region is receiving national recognition for its importance as a freshwater source for the Southeast,” said Jessica Laggis, Blue Ridge Forever’s director. “This funding represents the culmination of years of dedication in conservation planning and relationship building. WNC land trusts have been laying the foundation for this RCPP success for a long time.”

In the past, SAHC used the same federal funding source to successfully protect several farms, including the 320-acre Reeves Homeplace Farm in Madison County, the 90-acre Watalula Farm in Leicester, 116 acres of fertile bottomland in Sandy Mush, and 80 acres of bottomland in Fairview in Buncombe County.

“The ability to protect nationally significant prime soils and water quality with the same funding source is a dream come true,” said Farmland Program Director, William Hamilton. “This funding will have a permanent, positive impact on WNC, and will be a gift that keeps on giving for generations to come. It provides us with the opportunity to help preserve some of the biggest and best farms in the region. One of the victories of this funding is that it obligates $8 million to be used exclusively for purchase of agricultural conservation easements in western North Carolina.   In the past we were competing statewide for these same federal funds, and the federal allocation to the entire state of NC ranged between $500,000 – $3.5 million.  So, securing $8 million for western North Carolina changes things in a dramatic way for us.”

Mountain farms are increasingly vulnerable to a change in land use, due in part to extraordinary development pressure and rapidly rising land values. Large mountain farms are particularly scarce because they are prone to fragmentation and development as they pass from one generation to the next, yet they are critically important for clean water because they encompass significant water sources. SAHC hopes to use this funding to continue building on more than a decade of successful farmland conservation.

“NRCS has created a unique opportunity with RCPP that recognizes the power of partnership,” continued Laggis. “Farmland preservation is great cause everyone can get behind; it brings a diverse array of stakeholders together in a beautiful way. We especially want to thank Principal Chief Patrick Lambert of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Congressman Patrick McHenry, Senator Richard Burr, Governor Pat McCrory, Representative John Ager, Representative Joe Sam Queen, and the NC Department of Agriculture for supporting farmland preservation in Western North Carolina.”

 

About Blue Ridge Forever: 

Blue Ridge Forever is a coalition of the 10 land trusts in Western North Carolina, that have partnered for over a decade of conservation successes in the region. The partners include: Blue Ridge Conservancy, The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, New River Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Foothills Conservancy, Pacolet Area Conservancy, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, Riverlink, and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

Farming in the Shadow of Crabtree Bald

rushforkcreek3This November we protected 32 acres of farmland in the shadow of Crabtree Bald in Haywood County. Located along Rush Fork Creek and adjacent to NC Scenic Byway 209, the farm contains prime agricultural soils and has been in the same family since the late 1700s.

Currently used for cattle grazing, the land has been used for various crops over the years, including tomatoes, corn and hay. It is now permanently protected for agricultural use under conservation easement with SAHC. Fertile soils on the property include prime farmland (Saunook loam), soils of statewide importance and of local importance. Read more

Garrett Cove – 101 Acres Protected

garrettcove_vancegarrettWe purchased 101 acres in Garrett Cove, filling a gap in the network of more than 10,000 acres SAHC has protected in the vicinity of Sandy Mush. Settled by the Garrett family over 150 years ago, the cove is part of the cultural legacy of rugged and self-reliant individuals who homesteaded in the Newfound Mountains of the Southern Appalachians.

Located near the Buncombe/Haywood County border, this tract has been a conservation priority in Sandy Mush for several years. It adjoins three other SAHC-protected properties, and our purchasing and owning it adds to the network of protected conservation land in this historic farming community. Read more

Protecting Farmland in Fairview

lynch_fieldandvineyardThis year, SAHC protected a bucolic stretch of land along the Drovers’ Road Scenic Byway in Fairview. We placed 30 acres of fertile bottomland into conservation easements to safeguard the scenic vistas of the valley and working, productive agricultural land. The three adjoining tracts contain high percentages of nationally significant, prime agricultural soils, with portions actively farmed by Flying Cloud Farm and Bel Aire Farm.

“My Fairview farm holds special memories,” said landowner Popsie Lynch. “The land has been in my family for over 150 years. Over the years, this place provided home, livelihood, sustenance, and recreation for family and friends alike, offering opportunity to experience the outdoors and the beauty and tranquility of the mountains.” Read more

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