Skagit County is renowned for two things: its annual tulip
festival and the ubiquitous bumper-sticker slogan "Pavement Is
In a place where the piny forests and churning streams of the
Cascade mountains meet the water of the north Pacific, every emerald
acre is seen as an irreplaceable part of the county's identity.
With some of the most fertile land in the United States, Skagit
County, Wash., is green with growth practically year-round - from
berries to apples to bulbs. And for generations, its farmers have
been the primary stewards of the land.
But more and more, Allan Merritt and other local growers are
finding themselves in a vise of urban growth from Seattle to the
south and Vancouver, B.C., to the north. "We have to gear ourselves
for development," says Mr. Merritt, who grows jonagold apples. "You
can't stop it; you can only guide it."
For more than 20 years, counties from New York to Washington
State have tried to save agricultural land from development. But so
far, most programs have met with limited success. According to one
survey, some 15 percent of American farmland was lost between 1982
Now, many areas are responding with a raft of laws to curb the
spread of mini-malls and megastores. The result is a new momentum to
protect not only open space, but farmland specifically. Indeed, with
commodity prices low and America's aging corps of farmers nearing
retirement, vast amounts of agricultural land set to change hands
could be at stake.
"Counties or states need to clarify, if the goal is to maintain
farming or open space," says Jeff Daniels, author of "Holding Our
Ground: Preserving Farms and Farmland in America." "People don't
understand a farm is a business" and needs special considerations.
What's being done
To this end, states, counties, and charities across the US are
taking preservation steps:
*Late last year, New Jersey approved a constitutional amendment
to earmark $1 billion over the next two years to protect farmland.
*In California's Central Valley, the nation's most endangered
farmland, the Packard Foundation has pledged to spend $175 million
during the next three years to preserve farms and open space.
*Last month, Maine voters approved a $50 million public-land bond
for land conservation.
*Massachusetts recently required buyers of land in agricultural
areas to use the lot for farming in an attempt to stop the building
In fact, voters nationwide have passed 200 initiatives to protect
agricultural land, according to a survey by the American Farm Trust.
Although there are several ways to preserve land for farming,
purchasing development rights is the most prevalent method. …