The nearly 40-acre farmland property in Chimacum is now protected forever!
We’re thrilled to share that Jefferson Land Trust was recently able to purchase and protect an agricultural property in Chimacum with the key support of two exciting new statewide programs.
The Farmland Protection and Affordability Investment (FarmPAI) program, offered through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, provides low interest loans with extremely favorable terms to qualified conservation entities, like accredited land trusts. A second, complementary program, the Farmland Protection and Land Access (FPLA) program, offered through the Washington State Conservation Commission’s Office of Farmland Preservation, provides funding for agricultural easements on farmland purchased using a FarmPAI loan.
The two programs are designed to work together to accelerate the pace of permanently protecting at-risk farmland and keeping it in production, while also lowering barriers to land access for beginning, veteran, and/or historically underserved farmers and ranchers (as defined by the USDA).
Land Trust Conservation Coordinator Blaise Sullivan pointing to elk scat during a site visit to the property.
Jefferson Land Trust was the second land trust in the state to take advantage of the two new programs. After the previous landowners of the nearly 40-acre property had approached the Land Trust with an interest in selling in early 2022, we applied for a low-interest loan for the purchase of the property through FarmPAI in summer 2022, and in March 2023, FPLA funding was approved for a conservation easement that will limit development on the property.
The establishment of these two statewide farmland preservation programs underscores and addresses the value of farms to our communities, the urgency with which we must act to protect them, and the need to build pathways to farmland ownership for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
“These two programs together are really exciting to us because they demonstrate that Washington state is interested in addressing several limiting factors that are relevant to long term and equitable farmland conservation,” explains Blaise Sullivan, the Land Trust’s Conservation Coordinator. “Applying for and receiving grant funding for conservation easements is typically a two-to-three-year process, and having funding that facilitates rapid action, at a low interest rate, benefits all partners in these transactions.”
Family farms are among our most valuable resources; they’re an essential part of our region’s cultural and physical landscape, shaping our economy, our food security, and our ways of life. But with farmland prices soaring and a generation of farmers eying retirement, farmland is becoming more and more vulnerable. According to the American Farmland Trust, in the next 15 years, one third of America’s farmland and ranchland will likely change hands. As Jefferson County farms change hands, the Land Trust is working to ensure that our most productive farmland is not lost to development, and is purchased by an active farmer(s) with plans to keep the land in production.
Wanting to increase our pace of farmland conservation in a fast-moving real estate market that demands quick capital, the Land Trust has been looking at ways to implement the “buy-protect-sell” model used by many land trusts across the country. With this conservation model, a land trust buys important farmland, protects it with an agricultural conservation easement, and then sells the land to the next farmer or rancher at a price that‘s reduced because of the conservation easement.
The limiting factor for us with this model is having rapid access to capital when a property that meets our conservation criteria goes on the market or when we’re approached by a landowner looking to sell. We have long wanted to work with our donors to establish an “opportunity fund” to provide us with the upfront capital to take swift action on the front lines of land protection, whether it be farmland, forestland, or wildlife habitat.
Land Trust staff are planning a wetland restoration project for a portion of the property.
These two new programs are designed to support the buy-protect-sell model as well as to lower barriers for entry for beginning farmers and ranchers, veterans, and those defined as socially disadvantaged by the USDA.
“Besides allowing us to act quickly, the fact that the FarmPAI and FPLA programs work to address the historical inequity of access to land, especially agricultural land is impressive, and something the Land Trust is working hard to prioritize in our work as well,” says Blaise.
The recently protected property lies within the Chimacum Creek watershed, which the Land Trust has been working with many partners to protect for more than 30 years. In addition to agricultural land, the property has some areas with wetland characteristics, and our stewardship staff are designing a 3.5-acre wetland enhancement project they will undertake on a portion of the land.
It will be some time before the Land Trust will actually be ready to sell the farmland property. In addition to placing the conservation easement on the land and undertaking the wetland enhancement project, we will also be developing a process to select the next farmer or rancher that meets the goals of the new state programs.
Jefferson Land Trust has been working with local farm families and our community to protect Jefferson County farms since 2003 and has protected 18 local farms and 1,431 acres of farmland to date.