Tony Martin, a fifth-generation Yolo County farmer whose family never had more than a small amount of land to pass along, has in his lifetime accumulated 237 acres of property that stretches along Putah Creek.
And he’ll be able to keep that farmland intact for future generations — something he owes in part to the Yolo Land Trust, which partnered with other agencies to permanently protect it with an agricultural conservation easement.
Yolo Land Trust was founded in 1988 with the established goal of preserving Yolo County’s agriculture by providing local farmers a viable financial alternative to selling land for residential construction.
“In my lifetime, I’ve seen what development has done to good farmland,” the 59-year-old farmer said. “Everybody wants to live in the country with a few acres, but once those few acres become living quarters they come out of production.”
Approximately 50,000 acres of California farmland are converted to urban uses every year. Almost 600,000 acres were converted between 1988 and 2000 alone, according to a 2003 analysis by the UC Davis department of human and community development.
Martin, who says his land has some of the highest-quality soil and water available, was himself approached by a developer looking to buy his property. Thus began Martin’s pursuit of a method of shielding his land from potential urbanization.
The farm, which is one mile east of Winters, was found to have potential for conversion to non-agricultural use by the California Department of Conservation and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Yolo Land Trust worked with these organizations to acquire the easement.
“It would be a mistake for future generations to convert this land,” he said. “We need quality food supply. … The population is growing by leaps and bounds; we need to eat something.”
Aside from that, there is some historical significance attached to the farmland. It was once owned by the co-founder of the town of Winters, Theodore Winters. More than 150 years ago, he used it for horse racing, growing tobacco and other field crops.
Martin’s farmland increased in acreage over the years through the purchase and amalgamation of smaller neighboring farms. Under the easement, it will never be broken into its original pieces, said Yolo Land Trust executive director Michele Clark.
“A key benefit for farmers like the Martins is making certain that the farm they took years and years to compile would stay as a single farm,” Clark added. “They can be assured that it will always be a big, productive farm.
“In addition, the landowners are paid for the conservation easements, so there is a financial incentive.”
The Martin property joins the more than 10,000 acres of farmland protected by the Yolo Land Trust. An exact number on acreage conserved since its founding was not available due to the large number of contracts completed in 2013.
“This year was a particularly good year for us,” Clark said. “Some of these projects have been in the works since 2009, and we’re finally able to close them. They all happened to align for closure at the same time.”
For the continued preservation of the more than 50 Yolo County farms under conservation easements, the Yolo Land Trust elected four individuals to officer positions Wednesday: president Kathy Ward, vice president Kristen Bennett, treasurer Chris Sinclair and secretary Charles Tyson.
Two board member spots also were filled in the recent rotation. The replacements are Carol Murphy, controller at Capay Organics (holder of a conservation easement at its farm in Capay), and Chuck Moore, a Davis native and vice president of Farm Credit West.
Clark said the new board members were welcomed to the Yolo Land Trust with this mission in mind — to recruit “community members with a connection to agriculture in the county.”
And the effect the Yolo Land Trust has on Yolo County’s agriculture is tangible, she said, not just to those within its farming community but to its residents as well.
“The benefit to everyone is that we can buy local food, that we have open space connected with farming, and that we have the habitat available for animals like Swainson’s hawk to fly over our farms,” Clark said.
— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett