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August 30, 2019

Governor lauds farmland preservation during visit

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Gov. Ralph Northam praises Virginia’s farmland preservation efforts Thursday afternoon at Messick’s Farm Market.
“Maintaining a critical mass of working farms and forest lands is key to the long-term viability and success of these important industry sectors,” Gov. Northam tells the audience.
Fauquier County has a long history of land conservation. Some of the very first easements in Virginia were located in the northern part of the county, back in the late 1960s.
— Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Virginia’s top elected official came to Southern Fauquier on Thursday to tout a statewide land conservation program that so far has protected almost 14,000 acres from further development.

“In June, the (Virginia) Farmland Preservation Fund surpassed the important milestone of preserving more that 100 tracts of farm and forestland,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) told a small gathering at Messick’s Farm Market along Route 28 near Bealeton.

Established in 2008, the fund has helped 16 local governments with purchase of development rights programs buy 102 easements to permanently preserve 13,917 acres, according to the governor’s office.

The purchases have cost $32.8 million, the press release said.

Local governments have contributed $15.2 million to the effort. The preservation fund has provided $11.9 million, with the rest coming from federal, other state government and private sources.

To date, Fauquier has received $2.1 million from the farmland preservation fund to protect about 4,000 acres, county Agricultural Development Director Ray Pickering said.

The county has the state’s most successful PDR program, placing 12,882 acres under easement since 2002.

Using state, grant and county taxpayer money, Fauquier has spent $16.7 million to extinguish 654 potential home sites.

Under its PDR program, the county pays qualified property owners $25,000 for each potential lot they agree to “extinguish” through deed restriction.

Through the program, the Messick family twice has sold potential home lots to the county. Brothers Jimmy and Ronnie Messick used PDR money to build the farm market, which opened five years ago.

His administration has made farmland and forestland preservation a top priority, Gov. Northam told the audience seated in a tree-shaded area next to the market.

He spoke about the “important” contributions that rural land has played in the state’s history and its contributions to Virginia’s “outstanding” quality of life.

“In addition to being a contributing part of our economy, agriculture and forestry are also central to our history and our outstanding quality of life that we enjoy here in Virginia,” Gov. Northam said. “The beauty of Virginia’s farms and forest attract thousands of visitors each week, boosting Virginia’s second largest industry — tourism.”

He noted that the state has more than 300 craft breweries, 300 wineries, 70 distilleries and 25 cideries.

Agriculture, tourism and forestry rank as Virginia’s top three industries, the governor said.

“Maintaining a critical mass of working farms and forest lands is key to the long-term viability and success of these important industry sectors through the Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund,” he added.

The governor also singled out the host of Thursday’s 35-minute program.

“Jimmy Messick, thank you so much for opening up your farm and your hospitality and what you contribute to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Gov. Northam, urging the audience to give the dairy farmer and his family “a round of applause.”

Mr. Messick bowed his head and smiled.

Describing farming as a “tough industry,” the governor said: “It takes a lot of work. You depend on Mother Nature. You never know what going to come your way.”

Representing Fauquier, board of supervisors Vice Chairwoman Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District) talked about the county’s commitment to preserving rural areas.

“Fauquier County has a long history of land conservation,” Ms. McDaniel said. “Some of the very first easements in Virginia were located in the northern part of the county, back in the late 1960s.”

Over the years, as the county experienced development pressure, community leaders “realized the importance of maintaining open spaces to keep the rural and scenic character of Fauquier intact,” she said.

Ms. McDaniel called the farmland preservation fund “critical to our ability to achieve these results.”

The supervisor added: “The investments we have made in our land have paid off, as farmers are able to” use PDR money to “invest in their businesses, while growing the local economy and contributing to agritourism.”

In addition to the governor, Ms. McDaniel and Mr. Messick, Thursday’s speakers included:

• State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-24/Augusta County), who played a big role in the creation of the farmland preservation fund.

• Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina K. Ring.

• George Ohrstrom, vice chairman of the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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