This letter is in response to two letters from last week’s paper concerning my quotes in the special report entitled “The Land, a Plan and the Future”. While the quotes were mine, in isolation they do not express what I would like for the public to understand about my views.
I have been involved with Mount Vernon Farm for my entire life. For the past 20 years I have lived in Rappahannock and managed the farm. Beyond that, because I am a sixth generation owner of the farm, I know the history of what has happened there.
Rappahannock’s beauty and health are fragile and we must work to keep what is foundational in this exceptional place while preparing for the future which will continue to bring pressure to change. In my case, there were 50 acres of once profitable apple orchards that were worn out, fields in what were once wetlands that were being cropped using chemicals, and we were using grazing practices that were detrimental to our animals, the river and our soil. I did not want to farm using those practices. At the same time I knew that the scenic, open space and rural character of Rappahannock was a treasure worth protecting.
Transforming the old farmhouse into an inn and the dairy barn to an event space has brought a new energy to the farm. Mount Vernon has gone from a farm of dairy, corn and apples to one focused on rotational multi-species grazing to improve the the health of our soils and livestock. We rent 30 acres, much of which was converted wetland, to Waterpenny Farm where Eric and Rachel have a sustainable vegetable farm using organic principles and are in the 13th year of a 40 year lease. It is perhaps the best thing I have done for the land and our community during this time. Heritage Hollow Farm is in the fourth year of a 5 year lease and they use animals to improve our land while building a business raising healthy grass-fed meats. They and others are beginning to work with other landowners looking for sustainable solutions.
As our farmers age and land changes hands, many of the new owners are not farmers. To get the important agricultural tax deferment, they look for someone to use their fields in ways that meet the county requirements and hopefully replace and/or improve the nutrients in their soil.
We are doing many things right and must be careful about changes, but I believe our Comprehensive Plan will be improved if it allows landowners to use the open space land use deferment as a fourth option with some well thought out county set limitations for what practices will qualify. It would be another way of incentivizing landowners to make positive changes to their land by attacking invasives, building habitat and planting native grasses and wildflower meadows which will encourage native birds and wildlife, healthy soils and ecotourism while meeting the land use tax deferment conditions and benefiting the public good.
Cliff Miller III