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New State Grant Will Help Preserve Local Farmland

"There are quite a few farmers who want to put their farms into conservation easements, and having this grant is like a gift from heaven, because our tiny county can now turn around and say, ‘Yeah, we can pay you for that!’,"

CLARKE COUNTY, Va. - With over one-fifth of its land in conservation easements, Clarke County takes pride in its undeveloped, agricultural farmland. And thanks to a $150,000 state grant, they can continue on with preservation.

"There are quite a few farmers who want to put their farms into conservation easements, and having this grant is like a gift from heaven, because our tiny county can now turn around and say, ‘Yeah, we can pay you for that!’," said previous chairman of the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority, Wingate Mackay-Smith.

The grant money will be used to pay farmers who wish to put their land under conservation easement. It will help offset the costs a farmer might loose out on if their area ever begins to develop.

"It’s pretty important,” said the county’s Natural Resources Planner, Alison Teetor. “I mean our economy is still mainly agricultural, and I think a lot of people that live here appreciate and respect the natural resources."

In Clarke County, any property under conservation easement receives a sign from the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority, designating its special status. The authority says because so much of Clarke County is undeveloped, tourists from all over come to enjoy the wide open spaces.

"There have been several studies, across the [states], that for every household that's in [a] county, every dollar they pay in taxes, the county spends $1.20 to provide them with their services."

According to these studies, open land however, only costs a county on average $0.17 for every dollar they receive in taxes.

And those who have undergone conservation easements, like the Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, don't regret it.

"It’s a very special place, and the community wanted to do something to be able to protect it so future generations can come here and see its beauty," said Chief Sustainability Officer for the monastery, Edward Leonard.

"Monasteries have always been rural,” said the monastery’s Abbot, Father Robert Barnes. “So it was natural for us to be very excited about the idea of this conservation easement program."

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says his goal is to conserve 400,000 acres of open space in Virginia. Currently almost 7,000 acres have been preserved.

Governor McAuliffe also announced Thursday that agricultural exports for 2013 reached an all-time high, and are up eight percent since the previous record in 2012.

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