SALEM, Ohio - For nearly 180 years, Blake Rafeld’s ancestors have cultivated and harvested from Sugargrove Farm southwest of Ashland, Ohio.
Since 1984, when the couple began selling evergreens, the farm has become a favorite Christmastime destination for many.
And for the next 180 years and beyond, those 88 acres will stay in agricultural production. Rafeld and his wife, Christine – the sixth generation to work the land – sold an agricultural easement to the state earlier this month.
“It was a quite simple decision. This family has owned and operated this since 1823 and I don’t want to see it developed,” Blake Rafeld said. He describes development pressure around the farm as “significant.”
“Operations at the farm won’t change. But it makes it a certainty that the land … will always be in ag,” he said.
Key motivation. Keeping land in agricultural production was also a key motivation for Tim and Heidi Norris of Gambier in Knox County.
The couple sold an easement on a portion of the farm that’s been in Tim’s family since 1943.
“Once a lot is sold, you have changed the landscape of that farm forever,” Norris said.
“We could have sold our whole farm for gravel and made much more money than we did with the ag easement, but gravel pits and houses are permanent,” he said. “We want our legacy to be one that preserves land, not one that developed land for our personal gain.”
The family, which also includes sons Eli, 12, and Alec, 9, plans to use the money for improvements to the barn where the boys raise 4-H lambs, Norris said.
Who sold. More than $2.7 million was used to preserve 1,628 acres in agricultural production forever during the latest round of Clean Ohio Fund agricultural easement purchases.
Landowners selling easements include:
* Fred and Margie Shininger, Delta, Fulton County, 462.1 acres, $880,640;
* Dull Homestead Inc., Brookville, Montgomery County, 302 acres, $504,132;
* Gilbert L. Locke, South Vienna, Clark County, 236.6 acres, $377,626;
* Larry and Marna Barto, Green Springs, Seneca County, 88.7 acres, $107,475, and a second farm of 153.6 acres, $174,219;
* Lonnie and Barbara Barclay, Springfield, Clark County, 170 acres, $318,750;
* Blake and Christine Rafeld, Ashland, Ashland County, 88.8 acres, $142,944;
* William M. Frankart, Clyde, Seneca County, 70.4 acres, $88,003; and
* Timothy and Heidi Norris, Gambier, Knox County, 56.3 acres, $116,591.
Larry and Marna Bartos received two separate easement purchase offers after submitting multiple applications.
Land that’s not contiguous can be submitted separately, according to Melanie Wilt, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesperson.
The advisory board that helps select which easements to purchase has since voted unanimously to limit future awards to one per legal entity, according to Wilt.
Landowners can continue to file separate applications in order to see how their farms score, she said, but can only accept easement purchases on one parcel.
Still waiting. Nine more applications selected during the first round still await funding.
Though no definite timeline is available, state officials want to complete purchases this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Wilt said.
The next round. The department’s Office of Farmland Preservation received applications from 299 families for the second funding round of the program.
Deadline for that round of applications was April 30.
Applications were received from the following 45 counties:
Ashland, 27; Ashtabula, 4; Auglaize, 1; Brown, 3; Butler, 11;
Carroll, 1; Champaign, 6; Clark, 38; Clermont, 1; Clinton, 6;
Darke, 3; Defiance, 2; Fairfield, 20; Fulton, 16;
Geauga, 5; Greene, 9; Hancock, 3; Harrison, 7; Hocking, 2; Holmes, 2; Huron, 1; Knox, 20;
Lake, 1; Logan, 1; Lorain, 1; Lucas, 6; Madison, 13; Miami, 3; Montgomery, 14; Ottawa, 3;
Perry, 1; Pickaway, 2; Portage, 5; Preble, 5; Ross, 1; Sandusky, 2; Scioto, 1; Seneca, 4; Stark, 2;
Trumbull, 10; Tuscarawas, 1; Union, 1; Warren, 4; Wayne, 21; and Wood, 9.
Less available. Because funds have been allocated differently than in the last funding round, less money will be available in fiscal year 2004, Wilt said.
The next round will include $3.1 million in state funds, she said.
The department will also apply for additional funding through USDA’s Farmland Protection Program, which provides matching funds to state or local governments and non-governmental organizations with existing farmland protection programs to purchase easements.
How it works. The Clean Ohio fund was established in July 2001 and includes $25 million in bond revenues to be spent over four years for farmland preservation.
Under the state’s program, by voluntarily selling an agricultural easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, a farmer can be paid the difference in price between the agricultural value and the development value and be assured the land will never be developed for any purposes except agricultural.
Land remains on the tax rolls and under private ownership and management.
Grants are issued for up to 75 percent of the appraised value of the easement, and applicants must provide matching funds for at least 25 percent of the remaining value.
The farmer may also donate that portion of the value of the easement. The maximum state grant cannot exceed $1 million per easement.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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