It is a cold and miserable February morning with a layer of ice over the several of inches of snow that fell the evening before. The 60 some head of cattle and a bunch of new calves are hungry and Glen needs to get them fed.
Like his father and grandfather before him, they have been working this farm on Lower Mud River Road since 1922 tending to the land and running cattle. His grandfather started with a team of oxen then moved on to mules. His dad took it over in the 8th grade in 1934 and bought his first tractor which was metal tired in the 1940’s. It blew up on the way home from Hurricane. His first rubber-tired Ford 8N tractor came along in 1948. Glen learned to drive a tractor at age 6 and was driving one by himself and raking hay at age 10.
Glen still has a Ferguson 255 tractor in his barn — he has much newer and larger tractors today but like your first car or first date, there is nothing like the memories of your earlier tractors. Remembrances of school events such as Hamlin High School football games are few since he often was not done around the farm until after dark so making the 4th quarter was about the best he could do. Glen worried about the family farm if the next generation did not take over the operation or if another farmer did not come along assuring him it will remain a farm and make him an offer he could not refuse. Glen knows every rock, bend in the river, every rise and fall in the hay fields and pastures and every tree on this land entrusted to his family for 99 years.
He worried it would no longer grow food but might grow houses or covered with asphalt or concrete. Some say his farm is one of the most beautiful in the county. Views from homes built in these lush mountain hay fields and pastures would be exceedingly desirable. Many agreed we could not lose his family’s legacy and a Lincoln County treasure. The Lincoln Cunty Farmland Protection Board views every piece of farmland in the county no matter the size or location as treasures worth protecting.
Last month we gave an overview of the Lincoln County Farmland Protection Program; including what a conservation easement is and what having an easement means to the landowner. This month we would like to explain some of the reasons individuals place their land into a conservation easement. In Lincoln County we presently have 1 property under easement — Glen and DeeDee Stickler. Yes, the Glen mentioned above. This easement was purchased by the Lincoln County Farmland Protection Board. Despite how or whether a property owner is compensated for their conservation easement, when we talk with perspective property owners their reasons really boil down to three common reasons.
The first and perhaps the most frequently heard reason is to fulfill a sense of connection to generations past. Many of our property owners live on land purchased by their parents, grandparents, or generations even further back. They recognize the hard work and dedication their ancestors made to take land and make it into a working farm — a farm that usually kept food on the table, paid the bills, and even sent children off to college. The current property owner feels that by putting their farm into a farmland protection program they are ensuring that the agricultural legacy of their land will continue into the future.
Related to the first reason is a group of property owners who may not be connected to their land through many generations of family, yet still feel deeply connected to their property. Some of these owners have only recently purchased their farms but already sense that there is something important about their property that needs to be preserved into the future. They may be on a quiet stretch of Middle Creek or have a farm with a 200 year-old house but something about their property is so special that they feel it needs to be protected forever. Personally, for a couple of the authors we are in this second group of people. Our properties can be traced back through numerous owners and generations who in the late 1800’s settled here and lived off the land. As time progressed many took jobs in the local burgeoning industries but continued to farm the land. Our hopes are that these properties may someday be protected in some way to respect all of those individuals and families that valued what farmland meant to their families and to those that benefited from fresh fruit, vegetables, cattle, pork, chickens. Our hope is that these properties never become townhome subdivisions.
The last common reason folks go into a farmland protection program is financial. If the property scores highly on our local or on the USDA ranking, and if sufficient funds to purchase the conservation easement are available then the easement is purchased. This can amount to a significant amount of money for the property owner who still owns the land once the conservation easement has been purchased. In the case of full or partial donations of a conservation easement, there may be significant tax or estate planning advantages to the donor.
In conclusion these are the most common reasons people enter into our Farmland Protection program. Next month we will explore what it is like to live under a conservation easement.