ADDISON COUNTY — By the end of this year, there will be 7,747 more acres of land in Vermont that will never be developed.
That’s the total acreage of new Vermont Land Trust conservation easement projects across the state, which includes 1,241 in Addison County. Among those who sold land were Harvey and Donna Smith, who run a diversified beef farm in New Haven, and siblings Karlene, Nancy and Randy DeVine, who sold land they’d inherited to neighboring farmers Jim and Jane Danyow in Ferrisburgh.
Harvey Smith, also a Republican state representative, said the choice to conserve 265 acres of land — much of it tillable acreage, along with some forest land — on the former dairy farm was motivated both to ensure that the land always stays undeveloped and by the chance to make improvements on other aspects of the farm.
The sale of a conservation easement preserves ownership of the land, but transfers development rights to the Vermont Land Trust, for an agreed-upon price or as a donation. The easement ensures that forested and agricultural land will not be developed, though forests can be sustainably harvested, fields can continue to be farmed, and the land can be used for recreational purposes. When sold, the easement stays with the property, ensuring that the land stays forever undeveloped.
The Smith family kept about 30 acres of land out of the conservation deal, so they can continue to develop the farm’s infrastructure. Right now, they house the animals on those acres, and Smith said the family plans to upgrade storage to better sell meat to visitors to the farm.
“(The easement) gave us some opportunity to take some of the money and use it on the farm,” he said. “We needed some additional housing for the animals, and some extra freezer space.”
Smith said the farm is expanding beyond grass-fed beef to pork and lamb as well, due in part to his granddaughter and now business partner Anna Jo Smith, who is a first-year student in dairy farm management at Vermont Technical College and the state president of Future Farmers of America.
Harvey Smith said with the conservation easement, he was able to show Anna Jo another aspect of running a small family farm.
Anna Jo Smith said she is planning to expand and eventually run the business, and is working on a business plan for an on-site processing facility and smokehouse. She also plans to create ways to involve local schools and other area farms in the business. With so many plans, Anna Jo said she doesn’t plan on ever selling any of the land, but she said she’s glad that it is conserved.
“I’d never really think about using the land as anything else, but if for any reason we ever had to sell any of the land, it’s nice to know it wouldn’t be developed,” she said.
Karlene DeVine of Ferrisburgh said she and her siblings had similar reasons for working with the Vermont Land Trust this year. DeVine said though the land was traditionally farmed, none of the siblings became a farmer, and they wanted to see the family homestead of many generations continue to be farmed. The best way to do so, she said, was to sell the land to the Danyows.
It’s been a multi-year process since the siblings inherited the land after the death of their father, Karl DeVine, in 2005. There were a couple of years when the VLT could not fund the projects due to lack of funds, but the DeVines kept trying.
“We thought the best thing to do with the land was to keep it in agricultural use,” said DeVine. “The difference that the land trust paid made it financially possible for us to do that.”
Following the transfer of the easements to the Vermont Land Trust, the Danyows were able to buy 37 acres of land for a fraction of the price.
Part of the deal with the VLT was the sale of 28 acres of clayplain forest and land bordering Little Otter Creek to the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, which DeVine said was important in maintaining the character of the area that she and her siblings remembered.
“We all grew up here in Ferrisburgh, and the young people hunted along there. There are a lot of other people familiar with wildlife and nature in that part of the wood,” said DeVine.
For DeVine, looking at the land and knowing that it will stay open and undeveloped is a comforting thing.
“That’s a reminder to me of the foundation of Vermont,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.