Editorial: Farmland forever?

The cause is noble but, given human nature, perhaps inevitably doomed: preserving farmland and other open spaces. A lost cause, really?

The question is timely and worthy of discussion, since the eighth annual Rappahannock Evening View, put on by the Rappahannock County Conservation Alliance (RCCA), is scheduled for Saturday evening (June 16).

RCCA, made up of Rappahannock residents and friends dedicated to preserving the county’s rural and agricultural landscape, encourages landowners to consider conservation easements as a tool for preserving our farms, our working forests and our views. “The Evening View is our annual neighbor-to-neighbor event dedicated to raising money and awareness for farmland preservation,” says RCCA president Jennifer Aldrich.

By the objective measure of the number of acres put in easement (Rappahannock has one of the highest percentages of any county in Virginia!), RCCA and other like-minded organizations are doing a splendid job, but . . .

Across the country is ever-increasing evidence of flagrant disregard  for the legal covenants required in easements, particularly when the property in easement changes hands. The wealthier the new property owners are, the easier they can afford to take the legal action necessary to defy conservation restrictions. Many of the nonprofits that hold the easements, and thus are being sued, don’t have the same resources.  

Since these litigation costs could devastate the largely volunteer nonprofits and their ability to protect land, an insurance company has now been created – called Terra Firma – to help land trusts with legal costs. Last month, IRS approval for this new nonprofit was granted.

Though we are proudly a nation of laws, not men, new owners and new generations will inevitably challenge, and try to change, laws perceived to conflict with their narrow self-interest. That makes impossible the guarantee of preserving anything forever.

Still, we can try. And a great place to start is the upcoming RCCA event, to be held at Long View, the home of Cheri and Martin Woodard, in F.T. Valley. Tickets and event information can be found online at rccava.org or by calling RCCA’s executive director, Nathan Jenkins, at 540-987-9118.

Walter Nicklin