Protecting Prime Farmland: a win-win
Opinion piece by The Bakersfield Californian
Kern County farmland is not merely an economic engine for a region that otherwise struggles. It also plays a critical role in supplying the world with food. That’s something to be proud of, and something to protect. Holly King, Keith Gardiner and their families get this. The families’ ranch, which comprises more than 1,000 acres of prime farmland between Wasco and Shafter, was recently put into a farmland trust, meaning it can never be used for anything but farming. This was accomplished through an agricultural easement — selling the development rights on the property to the Sequoia Riverlands Trust, a nonprofit based in Visalia dedicated to conserving the region’s natural and agricultural legacy. The farm benefits from converting some of the property’s value to cash and the trust then “extinguishes” the development rights. King and Gardiner still own the land and can pass it on to their families and retain full control over their farming operations. But it can never be converted to ranchettes, tract homes or shopping plazas. Agricultural easements are a great tool in fighting farmland loss, which has occurred locally at a startling rate. Yet the easement for Gardiner and King’s ranch was the first of its kind in Kern County. We have to wonder why. “Farming is a quality of life that’s important to us. It expresses the values that we have as a family and we’ve always believed that the world needs food, and we need farmland to produce it,” King said. Surely there are other farmers and ranchers who share her view. It’s hard to fathom in a housing slump, but the Central Valley is projected to see astounding growth in the coming decades. Protecting farmland is an important effort in planning for our future. These families are doing their part to protect the farming tradition. Other farmers should consider doing so as well.