April 20, 2014

Rebel with a Cause: Beware Those Sincere Conservation Easements

These landscape-oriented restrictions
make farming unsustainable.

By Joel Salatin

The words stung.

“You cannot build a single structure on this farm.”

We wanted to build a chick brooder and a small processing shed in order to add pastured broilers to the farm we leased. This new enterprise was essential to making the whole farm viable. But the nonprofit organization policing the easement was adamant: No new construction.

Almost everyone is in favor of preserving green space. How best to do it is another matter. One of the models currently lauded by environmental groups is an easement whereby a landowner voluntarily creates a deed restriction against future development or nonagricultural uses, policed by a trust, in exchange for tax concessions due to the change in real estate value.

Landowners proudly display their easement signs at the farm gate: “Protected forever . . .” Protected from what? Protected from innovation, that’s what. Having dealt with several easements on other farms, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would sign up for one.

Perhaps the most common easement is the government program known as CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program), which ostensibly protects riparian areas in exchange for fencing and tree establishment and a 10-year cash payment per acre. On one farm we lease, the landowner signed onto the program and subsequently spent tens of thousands of dollars in her 80/20 cost share arrangement. The water system, which cost well over $100,000, completely failed in its first season.

For some reason, CREP won’t develop ponds, which I consider far and away the most efficient livestock watering containment and storage system since a pond yields aquatic environments, holds runoff from seasonal floods, and doesn’t punch holes in aquifers. Unlike wells—which, in a drought, can stop without notice—ponds are visible, so a farmer can walk out any day and see how much water is available. The other problem is that the government program only pays for nonportable, capital-intensive watering stations that militate against ecological grazing management. (That is, a farmer cannot rotate his herd around his property but must instead keep it near the watering station, to the degradation of the land.) Furthermore, the government-built fences, with their straight lines and square corners, assault the topography.

After the CREP system failed, we went in and built a pond (fenced off from the cattle, of course) and installed a piped underground water system that serves three times the acreage, that has never failed, and that is conducive to rotational grazing—for one-tenth the cost of the government system. The landowner, incensed over the money she wasted in the easement-based system, asked the government agent in charge to come for a tour of our low-cost alternative system. He wouldn’t come. (So much for a spirit of open-mindedness.)

On this farm, we can’t even build a doghouse. The landowners are now quite remorseful that the easement exists. To have a nonfarmer group from 200 miles away telling the landowner what is appropriate according to the easement is like putting an Amish man in charge of nuclear reactor regulations.

On another farm, a young couple wanted to run pastured chickens on their rented farm. But according to the landlord, the easement police considered even portable chicken shelters and eggmobiles to be new construction and therefore inappropriate development. What good is protecting farmland if we don’t protect the farmers and their economic viability on the land?

Building a chick brooder and processing shed, or adding a walk-in cooler for an egg inventory, is not antithetical to farming. Indeed, a house for employees and a pavilion for agritourism dinner entertainment are all pieces of the economic puzzle to keep non-industrial farms viable in our modern day.

One of the distinctive features and appeal of Colonial Williamsburg is the imbedded craft economy surrounding the farmsteads. The blacksmith, woodworker, barrel maker, shingle maker, spinner, and candlemaker found behind the main farmhouse all contribute to the economic viability of the farm.

Economic viability today demands value-adding, which means onfarm infrastructure like you would expect to see in Williamsburg. Too often those policing these easements want to see cows, pretty pastures, and bucolic gambrel barns without realizing that such a landscape never existed sustainably. Real profitable and ecologically sensible working farms had smokehouses, butchering facilities, housing for workers, inventory and distribution centers, and a host of other synergistic enterprises.

One of the main reasons farms have become non-viable today is that they do not include the compatible industry required to keep the money on the farm. Instead, farms have become simply raw commodity production areas that cheaply supply material to valueadded industry offsite. If we are ever going to shake the stranglehold of the industrial food system, we must bring the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers back to our farms.

Ultimately, these easements reduce farm viability and gradually turn Virginia’s pastoral landscape into a wilderness area. That’s probably not the green space folks have in mind. Giving over farm decisions to people who neither farm nor adapt their approaches jeopardizes farmers’ livelihoods. Ultimately, preserving farmers is the only sustainable way to preserve farms.

Internationally acclaimed conference speaker and author Joel Salatin and his family operate Polyface Farms in Augusta County near Staunton, Virginia, producing and direct marketing “salad bar” beef, “pigaerator” pork, and pastured poultry. He is now also co-owner, with Joe Cloud, of T&E Meats in Harrisonburg.

 

Editor’s note: Many readers were angered by this column. Several letters with this sentiment were published in the Feb./Mar. 2010 issue, which you can read here.

Our response, also published in the Feb./Mar. 2010 issue, is here. We also invite you to read a pro-easement article from our first issue here.

We invite you to post your comments below so that this conversation can continue.

 

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You can see more of Joel’s articles in our back issues. Sign up for access here.

You can also read some online here.


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Comments

  1. John Eckman says:

    Many landowners in the Shenandoah Valley and across the Commonwealth have chosen to voluntarily protect water quality by having buffers or no-build zones along streams. These areas help to keep potentially harmful waste from livestock out of our waters. Your local soil and water conservation district is a great source for information on various programs available.

    Those interested in learning how permanent conservation easements are being effectively utilized by working farm families who want to limit development and protect essential natural and cultural resources in the Shenandoah Valley and elsewhere are encouraged to contact Valley Conservation Council, http://www.valleyconservation.org.

  2. While it is clear that Mr. Salatin has encountered resistance to his farming techniques on property that was protected from development by an easement, it is important that those who care about local foods recognize the overwhelmingly positive impact conservation easements have had on agriculture in Virginia.

    Hundreds of farms throughout Virginia – both traditional ag operations as well as progressive local food producers – operate successfully on easement protected land. In the Piedmont region alone, many of our best-known local farms, such as the Farm at Sunnyside in Rappahannock County and Roundabout Farm in Albemarle County, are permanently protected from development by easements. Gryffon’s Aerie operates a well-known local food business on leased land, which is protected by an easement. For years, the conservation community has been striving to protect land for farming while protecting the flexibility of management that can allow that farming to happen.

    Conservation easements are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Land conservationists work hard to tailor each easement to the needs of each landowner, while protecting the important conservation values of the property. Easements frequently allow for additional farm housing, agricultural structures, and on-farm, value-added processing of farm products. Furthermore, thanks to generous Virginia tax benefits and local easement purchase programs, easements frequently provide cash-strapped farmers with the capital necessary to make on-farm improvements. One Culpeper farmer used the proceeds of his easement to go organic with his dairy, while another in Fauquier County was able to purchase additional land to expand his operation.

    A viable farming economy in Virginia requires that the most important input for a farm – raw land – is available for generations to come. Conservation easements ensure that the next generation of local food producers will have the land they need to produce local foods for our communities for centuries to come.

    • EasementsKillAmericanDreams says:

      Joel Salatin is AN AMERICAN HERO for his article “Beware Those Sincere Conservation Easements” in the Dec./Jan. 2010 issue and future generations thank FLAVOR for publishing this refreshingly honest article warning the public to BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID of Conservation Easements.

      Heather Richards fails to disclose she works for Piedmont Environmental Counsel (PEC). Richards response is pure propaganda just like everything PEC stands for smoke and mirrors and lacks transparency.

      STOP DRINKING THE KOOLAID AMERICA! These easments are killing the American Dream and destroying your children’s future. Technological enhancements REQUIRE that we farmers be able to have new inovations on our farms to give our animals a better life and better organic natural food for human consumption. History has proven with changes in technology and understanding creates better habitats for humans and animals living in harmony including medical advancements prolonging life, etc. Likewise, farming practices and land managment requires flexiblity. An easement too must be flexible to grow and change in time as farming needs change to serve the public and to best provide for animals on the land. The strict rigidity PEC has taken with regard to easements is unfathomable and contradicts the very core of PEC’s own propaganda.

      PEC has a long history of unethical conduct particularly with regard to financials. Farmer are organizing and lobbying to best provide whole foods to the public/

      Folks, YOUR hard earned money you pay in taxes is backing PEC, conservation easements, the “funny money” that pays “tax credits”..at the end of the day by supporting PEC and other conservation easements you are taking healthy organic pure foods out of your children’s mouths and for generations to come…. WHY? Because you have been SOLD a rancid manipulated fraudulent PACKAGE OF GOODS and the poor farmers that gave up land in good faith like Joel Salatin, Kay J. McClanahan and millions of Americans are all suffering….not because they want to develop it or put build skyscrapers but because they can’t even provid shelter for their livestock that would ultimately provide you the American people with healthy food for your family.

      DEMAND THE FOLLOWING FROM PEC and EVERY “CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION”:
      1. COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY – DISCLOSURE OF ALL FINANCIAL RECORDS, tax credits and transactions for the past 10 years and all litigation.
      2. An accounting of every financial donation received over $1000 from any single source.
      3. Public posting of tax returns, pay roll and real estate transactions.
      4. All government official interactions disclosed by public posting

      This is still the land of the free. We must keep it that way! God bless Joel Salatin for warning the American public. You are supported by so many and farming coaltions are behind you. The future generations of farmers depend on easements providing flexibility otherwise Americans will be consuming foods from China or over seas. IT IS VERY SAD that a farmer can not have a dog or chicken house because of an easement. SHAME ON THE PEC. SHAME on easements that have manipulated and taken advantage of so many innocent people. CHANGE IS COMING!

      God bless you Joel Salatin and GOD BLESS America. HOME OF THE FREE.

      • Freedom Farmer says:

        Smiling..actually laughing so hard I am crying at the repackaged PEC spin and resulting commentary…so did the PEC Board have to have a quorum or town hall meeting to approve that press release Heather Richards? Or did PEC’s Lobbysts get paid for that statement? Oh don’t get all dramatic…it is no secret…PEC, a 501(c)3 “non profit”, gets tax payer dollars and milks donors for briliant politics, lobbyists, propaganda and “spin control”. PEC even spends the American public’s money to pay off journalists and bloggers to make PEC “look good in the press” and “sway public opinion” (Paid witch hunts?):

        Bacon’s Rebellion, a site run, unlike most other Virginia blogs, for a profit. Jim Bacon launched Road to Ruin, a second, reported blog dedicated to Virginia’s transportation woes, and hired a full-time journalist to produce stories. But the reporter, Bob is paid by the Piedmont Environmental Council.

        What about poor Uta Brown’s farm? Crooked Run Farm has operated just outside Purcellville in Loudoun County since the 1760′s. Owners Uta and Sam Brown sold fruits and vegetables to the locals until they were shut down by the town annexing and tearing apart their farm for roads…and here is just of many PEC interesting relationships relationships…But Mayor Bob Lazaro, who ironically was working for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said the town’s growth left them little choice. Did PEC help the Brown Farmers? No.

        Look at whose on PEC’s payroll and the positions many have have/had as government representatives. Where is the transparency? Lets investigate indeed any nonprofit receiving government funding, whose actions are hurting farmers ability to farm on lands they have touched in one way or another.

        When the American Farmers unite on a national scale for a single purpose to bring down the ugly corrupt political world of spin the American people have been sold,the earth will shake! It will expose a greedy dark side of what Joel Salatin terms rabid “agricultural” “environmental” “conservationists” hiding behind “easements”, and other policing. All the lobbying, paid journalists and money will not be able to spin away Americans demanding transparency, freedom to farm with viable infrastructures minus the dead hand of bureaucracy.

        Go Salatin Go!

    • Conservation Easements Kill Farming says:

      GOD BLESS JOEL SALATIN! He must be thanked by every Virginian for his article “Beware Those Sincere Conservation Easements” in the Dec./Jan. 2010. Flavor deserves many journalism awards for publishing and not being scared away by Piedmont brainwashing. By opening debate on this topic, it is providing discussion that could save generations ability to farm.

      Heather Richards fails to disclose to readers she works for Piedmont Environmental Counsel aka PEC in her responsive propaganda. Just like everything PEC does failing to provide transparency to the public behind smoke and mirrors.

      Wake Up folks! You have been sold a spoiled manipulated bill of goods that is destroying the future for generations. The implications of conservation easements on the public and farming community is only just now beginning to surface and it is just about to explode exposing an ugly greedy world of unethical conduct that will deeply sadden Americans. YOUR tax dollars have paid for easement holders, tax credits and stolen farming rights and foods out of the mouths of your children. Why? Because Richards doesn’t tell you PEC is a puppet to donations and government dollars and does not support farmers in the face of competing interests. “BUY FRESH BUY LOCAL” is a ruse to further confuse a naive public drinking PEC’s laced Green Koolaid. PEC (and similar organizations) take away farmers abilities to farm by not permitting vital farming necessities on easement lands. This rigidity does not permit for basic advancements necesarry for animal safety and providing healthy safe foods to the American people. These organizations MUST be completely transparent and publicly post all financial matters, tax credits, tax returns, salaries, communications, government interactions, etc. providing full disclosure to the public – the only way to guarantee the future of our environment, our community and our farms.

      CHANGE IS COMING! Farmers are uniting and are not accepting “creative interpretations of easement language” or “harassment from easement holders” beholden to donors. TAKE ACTION. Salatin is offering a glimpse in to the bleak reality of farmers on easement land. It is a very sad future if we don’t help farmers have the resources they need. Salatin is not permitted to have a dog or chicken house? This is not the spirit of conservation easements. One of the problems is that easement holders pick and choose which lands to micro-monitor while others are left alone. BE AFRAID!

      CHANGE IS COMING! Farmers are fighting back. Litigation, Media, suing easement holders, grass roots efforts and community coalitions, contacting local, state and federal authorities and reporting misconduct. Take Action! DEMAND Farming rights on easement land! Save farms like Polyface! REPORT misconduct. Let Freedom Ring. God Bless America.

  3. Joel Salatin’s article “Beware Those Sincere Conservation Easements” in the Dec./Jan. 2010 issue was very interesting; however, it was also very dismaying. We are particularly concerned with the misinformation presented in the article. We firmly believe each person has the right to their opinion and we applaud Mr. Salatin’s efforts in promoting the Eat Local movement and the economic sustainability of our family farms. However, the Board of Directors of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD) believes that conservation easements are an excellent vehicle for landowners to protect their land from future development. Conservation easements are held by a variety of government agencies and non-profit organizations including the TJSWCD Foundation. Each agency or organization that holds easements has different restrictions and it is imperative that the landowner investigate which organization offers the best easement program given the goals of the landowner. Once an easement is filed it can not be revoked. Landowners should also investigate alternatives to conservation easements such as leaving property to private endowments and trusts, or educational and research centers and institutions.

    The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is NOT an easement program. The CREP program is, as Mr. Salatin states, a government program that protects riparian areas in exchange for fencing and tree establishment along those riparian buffers. The contracts do run for 10 to 15 years depending on the landowner’s contract with the National Resource Conservation Service. There is NO deed restriction placed on land that is entered into the CREP program. In fact the landowner may choose to opt out of the program; however, the cost share money that was given to the landowner must be repaid. There are additional cost share programs available to agricultural producers through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts that enhance and expand on producer’s ability to fence and cross fence properties for intensive rotational grazing and protection of water ways.

    At the TJSWCD, we work very closely with producers to allow the farmer to design a system that meets the goals and practices of that farmer. The cost share programs are not prescriptive in the configuration of fields, or exact placement of water troughs. If a producer would like fences that are not straight lines, the District approves those fences. However, fences built in straight lines are far more cost effective than those that have many curves and corners. All of the cost share watering systems and the CREP programs are designed to allow for rotational grazing. Over all, watering livestock from ground water wells is very effective and is healthier for the livestock since they are drinking water free from contaminants that are frequently found in surface water. CREP and designed rotational grazing systems help not only the environment but the farmer since rotational grazing and fresh drinking water increases growth in calves bringing greater economic returns to the farmer.

    Environmental sustainability of our family farms is important, as is the protection of our water ways by using best management practices and appropriate conservation techniques. The cost share programs such as CREP and programs offered through our Soil and Water Conservation Districts and NRCS are important tools in achieving both economic and environmental sustainability. If you would like more information on the TJSWCD please phone 434-975-0224.

  4. Allen says:

    American Farmland Trust’s Bob Wagner wrote a response to this article on AFT’s blog, the Farmland Report for those interested in learning more about how conservation easements are helping to protect farmland AND “ensure the future of farming and ranching as a land use and livelihood.” http://blog.farmland.org/2010/03/food-for-thought-joel-salatin/

  5. Nathan Jenkins says:

    In his conclusion – “Ultimately, these easements reduce farm viability and gradually turn Virginia’s pastoral landscape into a wilderness area.” – Mr. Salatin dismisses an entire class of land conservation tools that are beneficial to farmers (and their families), adjacent landowners, and to all of us in the Commonwealth. It is unfortunate that Mr. Salatin finds attacking conservation easements easier and more beneficial that using his knowledge of their shortcomings to improve their effectiveness. Here, Mr. Salatin puts more emphasis on his own need for vengeance than providing accurate information to the farming community that looks up to him.

    Any person can take a beneficial program and pick out a few instances where the reality does not play out as the program intended. Even as he praises himself for starting a lively discussion, Mr. Salatin, in his blanket rebuke of the conservation easement program, has marginalized his ability to provide a beneficial critique of conservation easements as they exist today. It may make for interesting reading, but it ultimately fragments a community that needs to work together.

  6. Amanda Welch says:

    I was appalled when I read Mr. Salatin’s article. I live in an area that is protected by conservation easements that protect and promote agriculture. There is so much good that easements can provide! Protecting open space is essential to preserving agriculture. Once the land is developed, there is NO chance of it being a farm.

    • Virginians For Land Rights says:

      They’re killing our American Dream!
      By Kay J. McClanahan

      A speech at the Freedom 21 Conference, Nashville, Tennessee
      It’s a real honor for me to be allowed to speak to you today. You are my heroes. I want to share with you what’s happening in SC, particularly in Richland County. My husband, Bill, and I own Homestead Farms in Eastover, S.C., outside Columbia, the capital, in the rural half of the county called Lower Richland.

      We planned our whole lives around the dream of retiring to our little horse farm so we could finally enjoy it full-time. That dream was destroyed in 1999 when the Richland County Council passed the 2020 Town and Country Comprehensive Land Use Vision Plan that will restrict us and our neighbors, forever, in the use of our land. The county did it the usual way, we are told.

      They quietly hired consultants and held “visioning” sessions with hand-picked citizens, most of whom were associated with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, a S.C. non-profit land trust, which County Council had paid, a year earlier, to do the land use study that we now know will dictate our new restrictive zoning. We knew nothing about any of it at the time it was happening.

      At about the same time, Council set up a Conservation Commission to manage the land grab. This Commission’s job is to acquire our land, or our rights to it (through conservation easements), especially after preservation downzoning ties our hands as to what we can do with it. The Commission hired the same Palmetto Conservation Foundation that did the land use study to select the properties they wanted for “preservation” and they prepared a secret map, where our private properties were labeled “Conservation Opportunities.” The Palmetto Conservation Foundation and their other land trust comrades will also be paid big bucks to manage our properties after control or ownership of them is wrestled from us.

      Kit Smith, a rich, liberal Democrat Councilwoman, who was on Clinton’s EPA Board, and who was a founder of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, is responsible for our Town and Country Plan.

      Smith’s husband was the President of Nationsbank for N.C./S.C., then President of Bank of America for the entire East coast, at the time this was evolving, and he personally arranged for the bank to provide a $1.5 million dollar revolving fund for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation and a $50,000 dollar gift, just before they were paid $100,000 to do the land use study and visioning meetings for the county.

      Although County Council is made up of 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans, the Town and Country Vision Plan passed it 11-0.

      They also passed an interim ordinance in 1999 so that they could immediately implement the Plan, all but the zoning. It was only good for two years, and basically said that everything in the Plan would be the law until they could pass specific new zoning ordinances, which they really expected to have within a few months.

      The most damaging part of the Town and Country Plan is all in one chapter, called the Vision. You can look it up. It calls for an urban growth boundary, created by downzoning rural properties to “Preservation Area”—green space—and denying them infrastructure. The Plan calls for “permanent preservation” of prime farmland, trees, any property on water and the land beside it, and land in the sandhills (all those areas that comprise our entire Southeastern half of the county), and refers to it—all 330 square miles of Lower Richland—as the Congaree Preserve, a term we had never heard before.

      Preservation zoning of our land will mean that either the property can’t be subdivided at all, or will mandate that the lots be so large that the average rural property owner won’t even have enough property to divide his land between his children, so that a judge has to order that it be sold in order to probate the estate. This is already happening in Charleston County, S.C., where downzoning was adopted nearly two years ago, where minimum rural lot sizes range from 10 to 25 acres, depending upon where you live.

      For example, if you’re zoned “Ag 25” (25 acres minimum for one home), have two children, and less than 50 acres, you don’t have enough land to legally divide it. It’s called “large lot zoning.” Unlike Charleston, however, Richland County’s new Plan will also dedicate large areas that can’t be developed at all. It appears this may be accomplished by something they call overlay zoning—very restrictive zoning which they can place anywhere and supersedes the existing zoning for any district.

      We can’t be sure how they’ll do it because it’s being kept a secret. We just know they’re going to do it. In fact, no one in our County is being told how we will be rezoned or what our new restrictions will be, until after the zoning ordinance passes, when it’s too late to do anything about it.

      These Plans are about control—greed. They are not about the environment. But ours does have a clear motive. Our Plan was specifically written to restrict minority growth. Besides providing for the clustered, mixed-use, and in-fill development in the city and urban fringes, and down-zoning the land outside it to worthlessness, our Plan also provides for development of one-square-mile, densely-populated communes, called villages, in designated areas throughout the County that will be segregated by the economic status of the people who live in them. Each village is to have its own schools, so that only those children can attend whose parents have similar economic backgrounds.

      It’s pure socialism.

      The villages are to be of 3 kinds:

      1) Upscale resort-like villages, called existing villages, because they already have existing infrastructure, will be for the wealthy;

      2) Employment-based villages, which are like mill villages, with an industry or other source of employment in the middle where everyone is encouraged to walk to work; and finally,

      3) Non-employment based villages. Non-employment based villages will be remotely placed and have no employment opportunities. The Plan says we will only be allowed 7 villages in all 330 square miles of Lower Richland, all non-employment based, and all, like reservations, will be stuck out in the middle of nowhere. We know this because they’re on the Plan map. They will be a place, it would seem, for the poor and the displaced not-so-poor to be hidden away, after their land is taken from them.

      In light of the fact that 65% of that 330 square miles that the county wants, is currently owned by blacks in Richland County, means that the village concept of this Plan, if carried to completion, will rival Nazi Germany in its social engineering, and at the very least, will result in gentrification and segregation. And if successful, I believe it will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country, where there is minority ownership of land.

      We know, from statistics from the Plan, that our white population in Richland County is declining and will remain just about level in the future, while the minority population is flourishing. What better way to stop this trend, than to restrict ALL growth in the county, knowing that it will mostly be minority growth, and then go after the blacks’ land? Many of our African American families are land-rich and money-poor, having been there since slavery, and will be an easy target for this elitist land grab.

      Ultimately, this Plan will make it possible for a very few individuals to control or own every piece of rural property in Richland County. And it won’t cost them much.

      This is no accident. A bonanza is at stake.

      We are told that Lower Richland County is the largest mass of land that is primarily owned by African Americans on the East coast and the largest contiguous mass of pristine farmland within a 15-minute drive of a state capitol or a major metropolitan city on the East coast. And it’s not for sale.

      Our land, which has been nurtured for generations, has made us a target simply because we have been wonderful stewards. They’re doing it now because their statistics show that most S.C. farmers, black and white, are now senior citizens. They want our land before we die, and leave it to our heirs. By depriving the elderly farmer the value of his land through zoning, who may have nothing else to fall back on for retirement plan or emergencies, they could well force him to give it up before he dies, if he needs money.

      By the way, this Plan is not just about Lower Richland County. There are other rural areas in the county that will face the same restrictions. But all of Lower Richland has been targeted as the “Congaree Preserve.”

      And this won’t just hurt farmers. Home prices will be higher everywhere. Some people who once could afford a home on an acre of land will have to be subsidized in one of those non-employment-based reservations. The problem is compounded by the fact that, for the last two years in a row, Richland County Council has stunned us, by passing the two largest property tax increases in history. I think it was intentional.

      All of this will end the American dream.

      As all this was happening, we realized that only a handful of people were aware of what was going on. The media wouldn’t print it. So in 1999, six of us founded the Richland Landowners Association in order to educate our neighbors and to fight the implementation of this Plan. My husband sued the county on behalf of all rural property owners, and we dug our heels in. By 2000, we were devoting every spare moment to the cause. Instead of retiring to enjoy our farm, we retired in order to try to save it.

      In 2001, we founded the SC Property Rights Watch in order to provide help for those who needed it in other parts of the state, and to distinguish ourselves from a group who had named themselves the SC Landowners Association, but who were not involved in our endeavors.

      New members gave us new life. We didn’t have any money, so we reached out through the churches, civic groups, or any other way we could. On the state level, we blocked three bills that would give control of our creeks, ponds, and wetlands and the land beside them to the state, and another that would give them our farms, statewide.

      We held off, at least for now, the funding for the Conservation Bank Act, a bill that would give a half-billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to the Nature Conservancy, and other trusts, to grab our land. We kicked the American Farmland Trust clean out of S.C. On the county level, we held up the writing of the specific zoning ordinances of the Town and Country Plan for four years and blocked the extension of the Interim ordinance, so that it expired two years ago, without any ordinance to replace it.

      Thinking that solved our problems, we were amazed when the County continued to enforce the Plan without any legal mechanism to do so, and, when our lawsuit finally made it to the SC supreme Court, two years and $18,000 later, they ruled that our injunction against the Plan couldn’t be addressed, because we had defeated the ordinance to enforce it.

      They’re finally about to try to pass the new zoning now in September, but instead of individual ordinances that we could address one at a time, they had consultants prepare a 300-page “uniform development code” which will fully implement the Town and Country Plan as a single ordinance, as well as restrict everything about our county, Gestapo-like, including building codes, churches, business licenses, and morals.

      It mandates what size your required front yard must be, and how many, what size, and what variety of trees and shrubs will be required in your mandatory landscaped buffer zones in your front yard. It requires an 8 X 12 porch on each new home. It restricts signs and adequate parking, which will eliminate small businesses.

      It dictates what you must do with your dog’s waste when you take him for a walk, where you must park your car, and how new roads must be built to discourage using them with automobiles. It restricts the harvesting of trees. It provides for trails for the public on private property, especially on water. And it provides for preservation downzoning.

      Getting ready for all this, the County made Code Enforcement Officers, who had been under the Planning Department, into Deputy Sheriffs, so that we can now be arrested for digging a ditch on our own land, and serve more time for it than for peddling dope.

      This month, County Council raised our taxes on prepared foods—another tax—from 5% to 7% to provide money to the Conservation Commission, so they can get ready for the grab that the new preservation zoning will make possible for them.

      The Commission is conducting secret title searches, and doing soil studies, and other evaluations, on our properties, so they will know, before zoning, those of us who are the most vulnerable. They know what we own, because we paid millions of dollars to install a GIS system for them to use to spy on us. It’s a satellite system to photograph us, our property, or anything else they want. It’s Big Brother. They’ll pick us out, zone us, swoop down on us, and once we cave in, they’ll call us “willing sellers.”

      And according to the ordinance enabling them, if the Conservation Commission ever wrestles your downzoned property away from you, they can get the county to change the zoning back up on it, and then resell it.

      Holders of conservation easements in S.C. can also swap properties among themselves, and if the holder of the easement ever becomes the owner of the title, the conservation easement goes away, and they can develop the land.

      We’re facing other problems, too. In Congress, Sen. Hollings and Rep. Clyburn of S.C., are pushing a bill to turn the Congaree National Monument—thousands of acres of swampland on the Congaree River in Lower Richland County that are surrounded by thousands of acres of our land—into a National Park under the Department of the Interior, and enlarge it. The Sierra Club applauded it. The map for the proposed National Park shows the land in the existing monument, plus the properties around it, each labeled with the owner’s name. I fear we’ll soon be fighting the federal government for our land.

      Meanwhile, County Council is making it harder and harder for anyone to be heard there. They say a citizen can only speak once, for two minutes, on any issue, no matter how many times it’s heard. Council often holds the public hearing before the ordinance is even available on it, so we can’t speak intelligently about it. Decisions are being made illegally, in secret meetings and on telephones.

      Our members have been called liars, crazy, uneducated, and ignorant.

      We’re not. We have provided them with an alternate Plan years ago, one which respects reasonable planning and the environment, but which also protects the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

      They ignored us, and told us to go away.

      We didn’t. So they have become increasingly aggressive.

      In an effort to intimidate us, Sheriff’s Deputies have taken law-abiding citizens out of Council meetings just because they dare to sign up to speak out against the Plan or Conservation Commission.

      Now, we have to go through a metal detector with a Deputy standing over us when we go to try to sign up to speak. They say it’s for “Homeland Security.” If they want to protect our homeland security in Richland County, they need to concentrate on our government officials and their environmentalist buddies, not on our citizens.

      In February, a Deputy manhandled the 72 year old President of the Lower Richland NAACP, because she was quietly voicing her concerns, having been called upon to speak.

      In March, three Deputies attacked my 72 year old husband, Bill, after he, too, was called on to speak. He was not allowed to speak. Bill, who is partially blind and had just completed radiation therapy for cancer, was dragged from his seat by deputies, and when I begged them to let him go, they grabbed me too, twisting my arm behind me, tearing my elbow, shoulder, thumb, and back, and leaving huge bruises on me. I’ve had months of physical therapy.

      We were set up. We had done nothing wrong.

      Finally, last month, Godfather-style, someone shot one of my innocent, beautiful, beloved horses through the heart.

      I’m hurting. But I’m not backing down. And neither are my friends.

      We will not negotiate with these People. If you do, they’ll just take what you offer, and come back a year later and take the rest. That’s what they did in Charleston.

      We will not be intimidated, and we will not give up.

      We’ll continue our fight here, and in the many other counties in SC that are embroiled in their own battles. The Richland Landowners Association and the South Carolina Property Rights Watch will be there beside them too, for the long haul. And with you, too, anywhere in the country, if you need us.

      We will share our message. We will go anywhere we can to tell our story, and we will continue to bring in speakers like you, from other areas of the country, who are fighting your own land grabs, to tell our people.

      They can’t keep this a secret any more. We know that we can’t depend on the local media, except for a few radio stations and independent newspapers, but we are getting coverage—national coverage—Fox News Channel; Insight magazine—a great article entitled “Smart Growth Riles Black Farmers” on 9/16/02; Investor’s Business Daily, and we’ve appeared on radio talk shows all across the country.

      We are fighting them at the polls, too. Some places are unseating these Marxists. Charleston County has already voted out three of theirs.

      We have defeated their candidates for state Senate and Lt. Governor, and the new Secretary of Agriculture is on our side.

      In Lower Richland, we have an unflinching supporter in Representative Joe Neal, the past Chairman of the black caucus of the entire S.C. legislature, and a staunch Democrat. Joe is traveling the country to spread the word.

      We can’t give up. I believe this is a greater threat to our safety, to the safety of our future generations, and to the future of our country than the threat of nuclear war.

      WE HAVE COME TOGETHER TO FIGHT. YOUNG, OLD, BLACK, WHITE, DEMOCRAT, REPUBLICAN, LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE, AND AT ALL INCOME LEVELS.

      I believe we will prevail because of what we have in common. We care about our rights, our land, our families, our god, and each other.

      For all their power and money, they don’t have God.

      This is still the land of the free. We must keep it that way. Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to working with each of you.

      God bless you and God bless America.

      • RP McMurphy says:

        Ummm… there’s a big difference between conservation zoning and conservation easements. Easements are, for one, VOLUNTARY. Educate yourself and you won’t sound so ignorant.

  7. Ecological Implications says:

    Important Flavor publish Both SIDES…

    Pinch yourself. Splash some water upon your face. Put on some strong coffee to brew…now THANK Joel Salatin for this article and FLAVOR because both may have saved future generations…..some but not all, of this content has been quoted from analysis by aclaimed author “Dianna Gattuso”:

    As usual the Piedmont Arena fueled by PEC needing donations is very emotional filled with lots of DRAMA….STOP IT…I know it is hard because some folks in hunt country have been so severely brain washed…THINK WITH A RATIONAL REASONABLE MIND…I can assure you CHANGE IS COMING and the laced KOOLAID you have been drinking is going to lose its powers very soon.

    Forever Is a Long Time

    Another problematic aspect of conservation easements is the requirement that the easement be held in perpetuity in order for the grantor to receive federal tax benefits. Such restrictions have ecological and economic implications to the public interest – the intended beneficiary of conservation easements – that extend far into the future. Furthermore, it is not fully clear how future courts will rule on the “dead-hand” control over private property.

    Changes in science and nature could deem perpetual easements useless or harmful. As numerous legal scholars and policy experts have argued, conservation easements that bind landowners and their descendants in perpetuity ultimately become antiquated and, therefore, useless or even harmful. The rule fails to recognize that conservation needs – as well as definitions of scenic, aesthetic and cultural62 – change over time, and that the easement may eventually lose any ecological benefit or even become a detriment.

    Gains in scientific knowledge can change our definition of what is ecologically beneficial. For example, we know from scientific advances in forest management that thinning techniques are essential to protecting healthy forests and their habitat and preventing forest fires.63 Yet conservation easement requirements with the specific purpose of perpetually protecting habitat in a forest may not allow for necessary logging and thinning projects.

    In addition to gains in scientific knowledge, nature constantly affects changes that aren’t predictable. The very notion that easements in perpetuity are ecologically beneficial contradicts modern views in ecology which hold that the environment is “in a process of constant change rather than in search of a stable end-state.”For example, a conservation easement intended to protect the habitat of salmon would likely designate an area along a river for spawning and limit development. But rivers change their course over time. If the area under easement is defined geographically, it will be deemed useless when, inevitably, the river shifts. Another example would be a situation where a conservation easement covering a wetland to protect habitat dries up, deeming the wetland useless for conservation purposes. In still another situation, an easement created and written to protect an endangered species could become useless if the species becomes plentiful or extinct.

    Easement HOlders…Manipulated FARMERS…Suffering Land Owners because of Unforgiving Easements – NOW IS THE TIME….OUR COUNTRY WAS CREATED because people wanted freedom…lives were lost because of the American Dream and today American shoulders die every day in honor of our country.

    What does all this mean….join the coalition – fight for you rights…regain control of your land to best serve Americans and provide healthy whole foods to your children’s children and safe shelters to your livestock. Hire lawyers, unite with fellow land owners and stop the suffering…the easement land grab is ending now….

    Most legal experts agree that conservation easements, perpetual or time-limited, are not recognized under common law. Conservation easements are called “negative servitudes” in legal terminology, referring to the fact the easement holder is preventing the landowner from taking action on his own property – i.e., building or developing. By contrast, an “affirmative servitude,” or non-conservation easement, enables the landowner to make active use of his land. Common law, which favors use of one’s land rather than restrictions, traditionally recognizes only three types of negative servitudes, none of which include those for conservation purposes.

    EASEMENTS and the gross restrictions and hardships farmers are suffering daily at the hand of easement holders is killing the American Dream and the future of our children.

    WRITE YOUR CONGRESSMEN NOW! Contact your senators. ORGANIZE YOUR CHURCH, CLERGY, RECREATIONAL CENTERS….CALL THE MEDIA…DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO STOP this CRISIS….TAKE ACTION! SAVE OUR FARMS and LAND from easements preventing our farmers from farming….DO it NOW – Before it is too late…

  8. Truth Do Good says:

    Conservation easements are a fraud upon citizens particularly those that do not require compensation in order to preserve and protect land. The PEC and other elitists have crafted a mechanism to line their already thick pockets in the form of tax breaks including the manufactured appraisals so the tax break will be inflated. No real farmer expects the government to pay them to farm, to enjoy the land, and to produce goods on the land. A second approach to essentially stealing the land is to selectively enforce the easement against those that they (the PEC types) seek to drive into bankruptcy so they can buy their property for pennies on the dollar. This strategy has been successfully employed but rarely gets reported on because most people cannot fight back; it costs too much. The same elitists also are often controlling the papers by sitting on the board or even owing them. These guys have no intention to help the farmer. Their only intention is to acquire land under duress (caused by them) by selective enforcement at a substantial discount, or to take advantage of tax breaks paid for by all of us. Beware of conservation easements. Scratch the surface and you will realize you have eased your property to a real devil without recourse.

    • NOVALandRights4ALL says:

      Ha! Thanks “Do Good” for the well written response. But not this time PEC…no farmer is being driven in to bankruptcy in Virginia or handing over land. Not this time and never again. This time they have messed with the wrong cowboys. Virginia farmers now have endless funding to fight back against litigation and will not be scared away. Come after one Virginia farmer and you are fighting against all farmers – a nation of farmers and an army with deep roots. Congress is listening and American farmers have very loud voices and will not be silenced. The fury of Virginia farmers has been unleashed. Virginians demand freedom to farm! Freedom to harvest and cultivate land for crops and livestock. Devils get your dancing shoes on because this party has just started.

  9. Jo Anna says:

    If you as a landowner do not wish to have your land use or management practices (current or future) policed, do not sell an easement. The easement holders have purchased the right to restrict activities according to the terms of the agreement. Landowners should be savvy enough to foresee additional construction or technology needs and negotiate to retain those rights, which might come at a reduced compensation for the easement. Almost all such easements include restrictions on the total square footage allowed under roof.Additionally, an accurate easement documentation of baseline conditions should be conducted prior to closing. Again, if you do not want the restrictions, don’t sell the easement! Sustainability comes with trade-offs and these easements are voluntary!

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  1. [...] for Thought for Joel Salatin A recent article by Joel Salatin in Flavor Magazine, subtitled “These landscape-oriented restrictions make farming unsustainable,” calls into [...]

  2. [...] York Times, warns all who venture into the “negative servitude” arena to enter with caution. Writing in Flavor Magazine, which touts itself as “the only independent publication dedicated to local food, Virginia wine, [...]

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