Jefferson County’s farmland surrounds us, but unless you’re flying overhead it’s hard to get a sense of just how much of the County is still used for agricultural production. According to the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board, almost 50 percent of County land is classified as farmland. According to Elizabeth Wheeler, director of the Farmland Protection Board, “that represents a critical mass to maintain the infrastructure for our farmers. Meaning the suppliers, the equipment dealers, the depots, the buyers — the network of activity that makes it possible to farm locally.”
Six years ago, the Farmland Protection Board set a long-term goal of obtaining conservation easements on 20,000 acres — representing roughly one-third of the total farmland in Jefferson County. Conservation easements are authorized by a program established by West Virginia law in 2000. These conservation easements qualify farmers to be compensated for the development value of their property while keeping their land as a working farm. Funds for the program are provided by a real estate transfer tax applied to land developers. Each easement is a recorded deed, so it runs with the land in perpetuity, preserving the farmland for future generations.
In June 2020, the Protection Board announced the addition of 748 acres to the program, bringing the total land in the program to 5,455 acres — over 25% of their goal. Three local families, the Magahas, Wares, and McKees, contributed to this recent milestone. The 190-acre Magaha family farm, which produces hay, grain and cattle, sits on land contested during the Battle of Summit Point in the Charles Town district. Nearby, the Ware family produces grain and hay on 280 acres. As owner Rick Ware notes, “Our parents would have been so happy to know that the farm they passed on to us will not be developed.” In the Shepherdstown district, the McKee family pastures horses & cows and produces hay on the 278-acre Borden farm. This farm sits within the core area of the Battle of Shepherdstown, the final engagement of the Battle of Antietam.
“The minimum size farm we look for is 20 acres and we have more interest than we have funding, so it can take several years for a family to get their farm into the program,” said Wheeler. She also noted also that the program’s benefits extend far beyond the acreage in the program. “Protecting our county’s farmland goes hand in hand with protecting the quality of life in Jefferson County. Local farms provide us with healthy food, support a diverse economy, and protect water supplies, wildlife habitat and the scenic and historical landscapes that make Jefferson County such a beautiful place to live and visit.”By Staff Contributor