Trust keeps 1,500 acres of farmland open in 2010

ADDISON COUNTY — Sid Claflin and his sisters last month signed the papers on a sale that will permanently protect 200 acres of land on their family’s Monkton farm from development.
The parcel of the family’s 325-acre farm is now protected by a conservation easement held by the Vermont Land Trust, which permanently protects the land from development and subdivision.
The Claflin farm in Monkton is the most recent of the six Addison County projects that the Vermont Land Trust completed in 2010, which all told added nearly 1,500 acres to the more than half-million acres currently preserved statewide.
In Addison County alone, the VLT since 1977 has conserved 191 farms, for a total of 49,406 acres. This year, in addition to the Monkton land, saw new protected parcels in Addison, Bridport, Cornwall, Shoreham and Waltham.
A conservation easement preserves ownership of a land, but gives some rights over how the land is used to the VLT. Once there is an easement on the land, the land may not be subdivided if sold, and even when sold the easement remains with the land.
A conservation easement doesn’t mean that the land cannot be used — in fact, the VLT works to conserve land as working forest or farmland, and some easements contain clauses for recreational use on the land.
Elise Annes, vice president for community relations at the Vermont Land Trust, said that due to its agricultural nature, Addison County has among the highest number of preserved farms in the state, along with Franklin and Orleans counties.
“In terms of the farming counties in Vermont, Addison County has very good soil,” said Annes.
She said that most of the recent projects in the county have been dairy farms, which allowed many of the landowners to bolster their business by expanding operations or growing more crops to feed their cows.
The Claflins received $565,000 for the conservation easement on the land, which was funded by grants from a number of sources. The National Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contributed $307,000. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, another regular contributor to easement purchases, pitched in $198,000. Finally, the town of Monkton’s Agricultural and Natural Areas Fund came through with a $60,000 grant. The town for the past three years has set aside funds to conserve agricultural lands and natural areas in the county.
Allen Karnatz, Champlain Valley director for the Vermont Land Trust, emphasized the VLT’s focus not simply on landscape, but on the working landscape.
“It’s less about the scenic piece of the farmland — it’s about the resource, about conserving that resource into the future,” he said.
The Claflin farm is a dairy farm, and Karnatz said it was an especially appealing project to the VLT because of its location — it abuts other land already protected by the trust.
“One of our objectives is to create a critical mass of land,” said Karnatz.
Sid Claflin sold his herd of cows in 2006, and since then the farm has been producing hay. He said that following the easement sale, the land will soon be pressed into service again as a dairy farm. The money the family received from the easement sale allowed the siblings to settle the estate following their mother’s death, meaning that Claflin was able to purchase the farm in full.
Claflin himself has been farming since 1984, and he plans to bring cows back in the near future to the land that his family has been farming since 1937.
“It was the only way we could make it happen,” said Claflin, of the easement that the family finalized on Nov. 15. “It’s one thing to farm — it’s another to own the farm.”
Claflin said that initially facing up to the choices the family had for the land wasn’t easy.
“It was a hard decision to make,” said Claflin. “But it was the right thing to do in the end.”
And the land’s beauty, he said, will be protected in perpetuity.
“Where the parcel sits, there’s some incredible views,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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