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Voluntary Ag Districts Benefit Farmers

Cost-Share programs are available for farmland conservation easement landowners through Buncombe County’s Voluntary Agricultural District 

Agricultural lands are an essential component of the western North Carolina landscape and the region’s natural and cultural history, and SAHC takes pride in helping farmers protect their land from non-farming development. Our agricultural conservation easement landowners’ commitment to permanently preserve their land in active farming contributes to the continued vibrancy and health of our region. In recognition of these contributions, Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation offers a Voluntary Agricultural District Preservation Program, which benefits landowners whose farmland is under conservation easement in Buncombe County.

What is a Voluntary Agricultural District?

Voluntary Agricultural Districts (VADs) play an important role in slowing the loss of farmland and protecting farmers in the region. Farmland preservation helps protect our region’s natural resources, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, and rural economy. Specifically, a VAD is an area of qualifying farmland of at least 50 acres, (which may consist of one large tract or a collection of nearby, independently owned parcels). In order to be eligible, farmland must meet several basic requirements and landowners must sign an agreement to preserve and promote agriculture in their communities. An Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural District (EVAD) additionally requires landowners to place their land under an irrevocable conservation easement restricting development (for 10 years or more).

What are the benefits of the VAD/EVAD program? 

Enrollment in the VAD/EVAD program provides landowners with access to many resources and economic benefits. Participants in the program may receive protection against nuisance suits, waived utility assessments, and educational materials. Furthermore, EVAD participants are eligible to receive up to 90% of cost share under the Ag-cost-share program.

To learn more about farmland preservation in Buncombe County, or to apply for the VAD/EVAD program, contact Ariel Ziip with Buncombe County Soil & Water or visit: https://www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/soil/farmland-preservation.aspx

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.

Community Farm/Discovery Trail Hike

hike-line2.jpgIt was hot –  but not too hot – just the kind of bright summer sun you imagine plants loving to soak in.

On National Trails Day/Land Trust Day (June 7, 2014), we led a group of curious members, landowners, and local families on a two-hour tour of SAHC’s Community Farm in Alexander, NC. This first Saturday in June starts off Outdoor Month, and was given special designation to recognize the economic importance of trails across the nation as well as the land conservation work of local land trusts. It was a wonderful day to enjoy the 1.5-mile Discovery Trail and to showcase the many exciting programs going on at our Farm. Read more

Preserving Farms – And “A Way of Life”

Anne1Over the past few years, the terms ‘local food’ and ‘farm to table’ have gained greater and greater prominence in our daily conversations. What you may not hear as frequently, however, are some of the underlying concerns for farmland conservation – namely, that local food production requires both local farmland and successful farmers, and that not all farmland is created equal. These concerns are an integral part of the story behind two recent farmland conservation projects completed by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC).

SAHC recently created conservation easements on two tracts of important, working agricultural lands in northwestern Buncombe County totaling 88 acres. The newly protected 52-acre Watalula Farm tract in Leicester and 36-acre portion of Duckett Farm in Sandy Mush each contain prime agricultural soils. Read more

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