Modern Farmer Farm. Food. Life. Tue, 24 Nov 2015 20:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 After Recent E.Coli Cases, Are Petting Zoos and Ag Fairs Safe for Kids? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 20:00:20 +0000

Questions resurface after a toddler's death this fall in Maine.

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Ask any parent: The first thing most children want to do when they go to an agricultural fair is race to the barn and touch the animals.

But not so fast, say public health officials, who are calling again for increased safety and awareness following the death of a young child in Maine this fall. Twenty month-old Colton Guay died October 6 of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a severe complication resulting from exposure to E.coli bacteria.

Colton’s father Jon Guay, a sheriff’s deputy in Androscoggin County, said he believes Colton contracted E.coli from visiting the petting zoo at the Oxford County Fair in September. “There is no doubt in my mind how and when my son contracted this disease,” he wrote in a lengthy and heartbreaking Facebook post.

Another boy, 17-month-old Myles Herschaft of Auburn, Maine, also developed HUS after visiting the same fair, but recovered and is doing well, according to his parents.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms both toddlers were exposed to the same strain of E.coli, 0111, one of several types that carry dangerous Shiga toxins that can lead to HUS. But according to Maine CDC spokesman John Martins, tests have not yet definitively linked the boys’ disease to the fair. “The investigation is ongoing,” he says.

Martins says soil and other samples have been collected from the fairgrounds and were sent to the CDC in Atlanta for further analysis. So far, there’s been no talk of any legal action by the Guays or Herschafts, but that could change if tests find solid evidence of E.coli contamination.

If confirmed, the Maine outbreak would be the latest in a number of E.coli outbreaks at agricultural fairs and petting zoos in the United States. One of the more high-profile cases occurred in North Carolina in 2004, when more than 100 people were sickened by E.coli linked to the petting zoo at the North Carolina State Fair. The state legislature responded by enacting strict public safety rules for petting zoos in a law called “Aedin’s Law,” named after a two-year-old girl who got sick.

Among other things, Aedin’s Law requires operators to get a special permit to operate a petting zoo or animal display at a state-sanctioned agricultural fair. Operators also must post warning signs about touching the animals, and they have to set up hand washing stations within 10 feet of zoo exits.

But despite Aedin’s Law, North Carolina had yet another big E.coli scare in 2012. Two year-old Hunter “Gage” LeFevers died and more than 100 others were sickened in an outbreak at the Cleveland County Fair in Shelby, North Carolina. According to ABC News, the E.coli was attributed not to the animals themselves, but heavy rains that had carried the bacteria to seating or parking areas. One of the state’s largest newspapers, The Raleigh News & Observer, promptly called for an end to all petting zoos in an editorial, saying they had “caused too much pain and sorrow for too many youngsters and their families in this state.”

According to the CDC in Atlanta, the number of E.coli, salmonella, and other intestinal, or enteric, disease outbreaks associated with animals in public settings increased between 1991 and 2005. From 1996 through 2012, some 200 outbreaks involving human-animal contact in public settings were reported to the CDC.

“Yes, it is definitely a growing public health concern,” said Megin Nichols, a CDC veterinarian and enteric disease expert, referring to the number of outbreaks at animal exhibits. Nichols attributes the increase to the recent general growth in interest in farming and farm animals.

Pathogenic E.coli bacteria live in the fecal matter of goats, sheep, cows, and even poultry and can survive for months in the soil and around the pens where animals are kept. The E.coli is usually harmless to the animal itself, but if ingested, through hand-to-mouth contact, it can make humans very sick. Very young children, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are the most vulnerable to developing life-threatening complications such as HUS, which can lead to kidney failure.

The key to preventing infection is better hygiene around farm animals, whether you’re in a public setting or working on a farm.

Nichols says the key to preventing infection is better hygiene around farm animals, whether you’re in a public setting or working on a farm. The CDC recommends that petting zoo operators, farmers, and others who work with farm animals follow the recommendations of the 2013 Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, drawn up by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. The document lists a host of measures, including posting signs at the entrance of animal areas warning of the dangers of touching them; supervising children carefully when they’re in the animal pens and not allowing them to sit down in animal areas; disallowing eating or drinking near animals; and banning strollers, pacifiers, and similar items in the areas. Hand-washing should be encouraged strongly after any animal contact.

That last component, says Nichols, is key. “I truly believe hand-washing is one of the best deterrents against the spread of disease from animals to humans.” For those who live and work on farms, constant hand washing is also highly recommended, as is using clothing and boots that are specifically dedicated for working with farm animals.

Although the Maine investigation is in the very early stages, a 2008 survey by a Portland-based field epidemiologist, Lisa Bondeson, and filed with the National Institutes of Health concluded that Maine agricultural fairs at that time were not properly informing the public about the risks of petting zoos. CDC spokesman Martins said the survey was not based on current information, was likely an independent action, and he could not elaborate on the survey’s findings.

As Maine gets closer to finding out what happened at the Oxford County Fair, state fair officials and local farming and public-health experts are calling for a renewed campaign to educate the public about the importance of washing hands immediately after touching farm animals. Among other things, the Maine State Fair Association plans an all-day seminar on the subject early next year.

Still mourning the loss of his young son, Jon Guay is awaiting the birth of a daughter in January, but vows to take an active role in educating the public about the potential dangers children face at petting zoos.

“It makes no difference what future investigation or test results yield,” Guay wrote, “as I know that HUS is real, is deadly, and affects many lives across this country every year. I pray that the lessons learned in Colton’s story are not forgotten.”

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#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Meagan Burns of Rancho Santo Niño Tue, 24 Nov 2015 17:00:54 +0000

Meet Meagan Burns, who raises Limousin cattle on 630 acres in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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Meagan Burns always considered herself a city girl and admits being afraid of wide-open spaces, even though she had spent her first few years of life on a dairy farm in Illinois. But something changed when her mother died in 2013. Burns left Chicago behind after feeling “a serious need to be in the country.”

She ended up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where her ex-husband, Reed Burns, had spent a “decade cleaning up a handsome breed of Limousin cattle.” When she learned he had plans to sell the cattle to a factory farm in Northern Mexico, she stepped in, proclaiming that they needed grass-fed beef in their area.

“He said if I could find people to process the cows and a way to sell the beef, I could have a few cows,” she tells Modern Farmer. “I began assembling the Mexican team the very next day and our products are now sold in local organic stores, restaurants, leather shops and farmers markets.”

Rancho Santo Niño, located near Dolores Hidalgo, in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, is home to about 70 head of cattle that graze on 630 acres. Burns says they may also build greenhouses in the future.

Modern Farmer: Why do you consider yourself a modern farmer?

Meagan Burns: I want to be very clear that while I am working on and for our ranch to produce grass-fed beef by using the most optimal practices possible, I by no means classify myself as a farmer. I believe that title belongs to the hard-working individuals who are working the land and livestock from dawn to dusk, and everything in between. I have great regard for the cattle ranchers I read about and learn from, which includes the Mexican family that lives on Rancho Santo Niño, as well as the butchers of Dolores Hidalgo who let me work alongside them.

As luck would have it, I found myself in a livestock situation that needed managing, marketing, and dedication; I just so happen to have these attributes, plus an unwavering regard for cows. It feels good to be among them; I love their sturdy nature and long deep stares. I suppose the modern part is that I practice reiki on the cows and play my crystal bowls for them. The guys look at me like I’m absolutely bananas, but I think the cows enjoy it tremendously.

MF: Why is it important to you to support local agriculture?

MB: I have expressed my profound love for cows and have been met with, “if you love them, how can you kill them?” This is certainly a valid point. I was a vegetarian for years, so I get it. An autoimmune condition sent me back to eating meat and my health improved greatly as my interest turned to the cows outside my window. Our cows are not pets and they have their purpose; setting them free is not an option, as some have suggested. Temple Grandin inspired me to want to treat them with the utmost respect and give them a good life until it is time for them to become fuel for people. I know where my food comes from when I sit down at the table. It is a deeply profound experience and has required me to become a better person. I would love for more people to have the experience of knowing where their food comes from.

MF: If you could grow or raise any food or animal, what would it be and why?

MB: Cows. Cows. Cows. Because cows.

MF: What’s your favorite vegetable?

MB: Brussels sprouts!

MF: If you could give other modern farmers any advice, what would it be?

MB: A few years ago, while still living in Chicago, I proclaimed I wanted to be a Modern Farmer, yet I could not keep a house plant alive, nor did I own a dollop of dirt. I scoffed at my dreams and forgot them as best I could, yet life led me to the cows of Rancho Santo Niño. I’m not presumptuous enough to give out modern farming advice, but I will suggest listening to your heart; the heart knows.

MF: Do you have a farming/agricultural hero? Why do you admire them?

MB: Hands down: Temple Grandin. She overcame so many obstacles and prejudices in life and in the cattle industry. I continue to learn from her and be inspired by her efforts. They thought she was nuts, then she changed cattle industry standards by first asking, “why are they mooing so loud?”

Here’s the #iamamodernfarmer video Meagan posted that won this week’s contest:

#IamaModernFarmer in #Guanajuato, #Mexico and its time for our #grassfed cows to get on that #DoloresHidalgo grass #ANDALE!

A video posted by 🌀⚡️meagan burns⚡️🌀 (@meagan_burns_) on

Want a chance at an interview with Modern Farmer and other cool prizes? Just post a picture or a video on Twitter and/or Instagram with the hashtag #iamamodernfarmer and you’ll be entered for a chance to win. Every week, we’ll choose one winner to be profiled Every month, one of the weekly winners will be picked to win $100 inModern Farmer swag. One of the monthly winners will also win the grand prize: A VIP trip for two to the Farm Aid 2016 concert!

Added bonus: If you purchase an “I am a modern farmer” t-shirt, you’ll stand in solidarity with the hardworking men and women who produce our food. You certainly don’t have to don the shirt to post and have a chance to win, but with sales of these tees, Modern Farmer supports independent farmers with a donation to Farm Aid.

Need inspiration? Check out all the #iamamodernfarmer posts from across the country—and around the world!

See official contest rules here.

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Bayer Will Pay Vineyard Owners Millions After Fungicide Ruined a Lot of Wine Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:00:34 +0000

The world is missing six million bottles of wine. Whose fault is it?

The post Bayer Will Pay Vineyard Owners Millions After Fungicide Ruined a Lot of Wine appeared first on Modern Farmer.

In one of the most stark bits of evidence for pro-organic and/or anti-fungicide/pesticide folks out there, a huge chemical conglomerate's fungicide has been shown to have slaughtered the yields of some of Europe's best vineyards. As a result, the company will have to pay huge fines to the growers—some estimates have the fines approaching $100 million.

Bayer is perhaps best known in the US for its aspirin, but like any other massive chemical corporation, it has a huge division dedicated to fungicides and pesticides. Bayer’s is called Bayer CropScience, and it is involved in the food industry in areas ranging from pesticides to genetic modifications to seed biotechnology. One of its newer products, known in some countries as Moon Privilege and in some as Luna Privilege (we’ll go ahead and assume that sounds better in other languages), is a fungicide that was embraced by vineyard owners in much of western Europe’s best wine-growing regions, including parts of France, Germany, Italy, and Austria.

Except: Moon Privilege (lol, again) seems to have been a disaster of a product. Back in September, Bayer warned grape growers to stop using the product, citing connections between use of the product and low yields, deformed leaves, and an extremely reduced crop. In Switzerland alone, it’s estimated that Moon Privilege was responsible for a decrease in the total harvest by 4.85 percent, some 14 million pounds of grapes and an estimated six million bottles of wine. And that’s not the end of it: The product’s active ingredient, fluopyram, though approved by both the US and EU, has been linked to cancer, liver disease, and respiratory problems.

Enews Park Forest reports that Bayer, currently expecting some sort of legal charges, is trying to figure out exactly how much money to pay to the grape growers throughout Europe to compensate them for killing their crop. SwissInfo suggests this figure could rise to about $92 million, though it’s not clear if they’re only referring to Swiss vineyards with that number.

We’ll keep you updated if and when official legal challenges are brought.

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6 Oddball Facts About Turkeys We Bet You Didn’t Know Mon, 23 Nov 2015 21:09:23 +0000

Just in time for Thanksgiving: turkeys are kind of weird, but also really cool.

The post 6 Oddball Facts About Turkeys We Bet You Didn’t Know appeared first on Modern Farmer.

Ever thought about the spirited life and legend of your tryptophanic Thanksgiving centerpiece? Most people know the story of Ben Franklin vouching for the turkey to be America’s national bird, which may or may not be true, but here are some other funky facts about the bird itself.

People have been eating them for a while now.

Researchers discovered the earliest-known instance of turkey domestication in a Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala, many miles from turkeys’ native habitat in Mexico. The turkey bones—presumably from a ceremony, sacrifice, or feast—were more than 2,000 years old.

All turkey species originated in Mexico.

Which is a surprise, since Chipotle doesn’t even offer a turkey burrito.

You won’t find their eggs in a store.

Have you ever seen turkey eggs at Trader Joe’s? Probably not. They lay significantly fewer eggs per year than chickens do. “Turkey eggs are very valuable,” said Nick Zimmerman, an associate professor of animal/avian sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, in an interview with Discovery News. “They have a higher value for making new baby poults, so we can grow them up into nice large turkeys and make meat for people.” Zimmerman estimates the market price of one turkey egg at $3.50, more than twelve times that of a chicken egg.

They change color.

Well, the heads and necks of males do. Naturally a grayish blue, their skin can turn a deep red-purple when they’re feeling feisty (think mating/fighting). “When they’re breeding or when they’re aggressive, more blood goes into their head—it’s sort of like people who get flushed when really excited or mad,” says retired ornithologist (a person who studies birds) and author Roger Lederer. “During breeding season, their heads could be red all week!”

The name turkey happened because someone didn’t know their birds too well.

It’s theorized that Europeans originally misidentified the gobblers as guinea fowl, which they believed hailed from the country Turkey. (They’re not. They’re from Guinea in Western Africa, but that’s another mistake altogether.) Turkey and guinea fowl are not the same thing, but that doesn’t mean anyone bothered to change the name to something correct, like “Mexico.” Example:

Bob: How much Mexico did you eat on Thanksgiving this year?
Jane: Dude, so much Mexico. Like eight slices of Mexico with stuffing. I gotta learn some self-control.

Facial boners are a thing.

A floppy, fleshy piece of skin above the beak called the snood gets engorged with blood as an ornamental way of attracting females. Research shows that female turkeys are most attracted to larger snoods, and that if you’re going to be a male turkey, it’s best to be the one with the biggest snood of the bunch: Not only does it help you get the girl, but other males avoid fighting with and defer to you.

Roger Lederer, who answered one of our turkey questions, has a new book coming out. You can find Beaks, Bones & Birdsongs: How the Struggle for Survival Has Shaped Birds and Their Behavior in Spring 2016, published by Timber Press.

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Meet 10 Modern Farmers Who Bring a Fresh Approach to Agriculture Mon, 23 Nov 2015 17:28:40 +0000

An Atlanta activist, an apple artist, a first-generation farmer answering a calling: These purveyors put a premium on independence.

The post Meet 10 Modern Farmers Who Bring a Fresh Approach to Agriculture appeared first on Modern Farmer.

An Atlanta activist, an apple artist, a first-generation farmer answering a calling: These entrepreneurs bring a fresh approach to agriculture. Are you a modern farmer, too? You don’t have to own 50 acres and a tractor. Even if you’re a wannabe, a passionate foodie, a homegrown do-er, or simply care about where your food comes from, you fit our definition. Sound like you? Show us with #iamamodernfarmer—and you could win big!

In the meantime, meet these 10 purveyors who put a premium on independence and are changing the face of modern farming.


Photo by Meredith Heuer

Read more about Susan Paykin and Common Ground Farm »


Photo by Hillary Ross

Read more about John Ross and Ross Orchards »


Photo by David Robert Elliott

Read more about Molly Myerson and Little Wing Farm »


Photo by Anna Mia Davidson

Read more about Julie Johnston and Helen’s Farm »


Photo by Michael Lundgren

Read more about Emidgio Ballon and the Tesuque Agricultural Initiative


Photo by Claire Rosen

Read more about Alicia Adams and Alamilo Farm »



Photo by Squire Fox

Read more about Joseph Fields and Joseph Fields Farm »


Photo by Suki Zoe

Read more about Orin Hardy, Maria Farrugia, Made Gojing, and The Kul-Kul Farm »


Photo by Shannon McCollum

Read more about Jamila Norman and Patchwork City Farms »


Photo by David Robert Elliott

Read more about Abra Berens, Jess Piskor, and Bare Knuckle Farm »

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Fried-Chicken Joint Claims To Be Country’s First USDA-Certified Organic Fast Food Mon, 23 Nov 2015 14:00:58 +0000

Can a whole restaurant really be certified organic?

The post Fried-Chicken Joint Claims To Be Country’s First USDA-Certified Organic Fast Food appeared first on Modern Farmer.

The Organic Coup is making a big claim: that it, a fried chicken joint in Pleasanton, California, is the country's first certified-organic fast food restaurant. So let's look into that, shall we?

The Organic Coup, started by a former buyer for Costco, is the latest in the fried-chicken-sandwich craze, following in the footsteps of Fuku, David Chang’s take on the idea. But The Organic Coup is a new twist, because it claims to be the country’s first USDA organic-certified fast food restaurant.

The rules about organic certification for individual products are pretty specific. It’s not hard to figure out if a head of lettuce or a carton of eggs is organic, but establishments are much harder and more complex. It is possible for an entire restaurant to be certified USDA organic, but it is, frankly, a total mess, and one that’s a little bit more vague than individual items. (Even though there are thousands of certified organic goods, there are only a dozen or so certified organic restaurants in the entire country.)

Generally speaking, for a restaurant to advertise that it’s certified USDA organic, it must have certain qualities. (This Grist article does a good job of explaining what a pain in the butt this is.) At least 95 percent of all foods that come in the door have to be certified organic in their own right. Non-organic ingredients must be firmly separated, and can’t be prepared on the same surfaces, almost like the rules of Kosher. Cleaning products must all also be certified organic. Same thing with pest control. It’s a nightmare.

This stuff can be maddeningly unclear. This particular restaurant’s website says “All ingredients used at The Organic Coup are certified organic by CCOF,” that last acronym referring to a California-based accredited certifier of organics, California Certified Organic Farmers. We reached out to them to figure out what that actually means. “Our facility is certified,” replied The Organic Coup’s founder and CEO, Erica Welton, in an email. “So CCOF is looking at all food, beverages, pest, water filtration, cleaning products, all SOP’s. [I assume this means ‘standard operating procedures.’] They look at packaging and all graphics where we are explaining organic, describing our products and our branding whenever we are using then CCOF or USDA logo.” So, pretty complete!

The nice thing about having the entire restaurant certified organic is that, because it is such an utter pain to do, you know that every single product has at least some measure of regulation looking out for its provenance. And if it’s a success, you may not have to go out to Pleasanton to try it; Welton told Eater that they plan to open 25 more locations in the next 14 months.

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November 20: Stories That Caught Our Attention This Week Fri, 20 Nov 2015 20:00:34 +0000

Up this week: stealing cows, hitting sheep, and eating GMO salmon.

The post November 20: Stories That Caught Our Attention This Week appeared first on Modern Farmer.

Take a Modern Farmer-approved trip around the web with the stories that got us talking this week. Bus leaves every Friday, so join any time.

Earlier this week, federal officials cleared genetically modified salmon to be safe for human consumption. The AquaAdvantage salmon, engineered by AquaBounty Technologies, is an Atlantic salmon altered to grow to market size in half the time of a regular Atlantic salmon. No matter what side of the GMO debate you sit on, this historic decision marks the first animal FDA-approved for our dinner plate.

A billionaire real estate mogul took his California mansion off the market to do something a little different with the land: Turn it (or, at least, part of it) into a farm. “We’re going to grow tomatoes, potatoes, onions, [and] corn,” Jeff Greene told CNBC. ” Greene suggested he expects his orgo-loving neighbor, a fellow billionaire, to pop through the gate and eat his veggies.

Over in Nigeria, police returned thirty cows to their proper owners after they were taken by cow rustlers associated with Boko Haram. The Guardian reports that 159 cows, 266 sheep, 19 goats, and one horse were found with the rustlers—no word on what’s up with the rest of those animals.

Lastly, this is the saddest and strangest story of counting sheep we have ever heard: A drunk driver in Colorado hit a herd of sheep Tuesday and reportedly kept going. Forty-two in all were killed. The San Luis Valley, where the accident occurred, has open-range areas where drivers are asked to look out for crossing animals. News 9 reported “blood and guts” all over the road.  The driver was found, arrested, and has since been released.

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Meet Modern Farmer’s Guest Instagrammer: The Ecology Center Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:08:48 +0000

Say hello to The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. They're taking over our Instagram account this weekend!

The post Meet Modern Farmer’s Guest Instagrammer: The Ecology Center appeared first on Modern Farmer.

Say hello to The Ecology Center, a non-profit educational center that teaches hands-on environmental solutions at the household, workplace and community level in San Juan Capistrano, California. They’re taking over Modern Farmer's Instagram account for the weekend. Stop by and have a look!

Seven years ago Evan Marks launched an eco-education center for Southern California. He had wanted to use his agroecology degree from UC Santa Cruz and his experience designing and managing large-scale organic farms in Latin America and West Africa to help people directly impact the environment in a positive way through individual change.

Today, The Ecology Center is a thriving “biodiverse learning garden and community gathering space” where numerous workshops, community festivals, and field trips are held, says Ann Nguyen, who heads up marketing and communication for the center.

In 2015, close to 30,000 people participated in the center’s school programs—school gardens, camps, and field trips—and more than 4,000 folks have participated in sustainability workshops and farm-to-table education. The center has also played host to about 9,000 visitors who have come for self-guided tours, festivals, and other public events.


Participants in The Ecology Center’s Farm Lab Camp.

“We’ve seen both small and large scale results,” says Nguyen. “Through our workshops, people will go home inspired to install rain barrels and start composting. Through our Permaculture Design Certification course, students become eco-entrepreneurs, farmers, and designers. In our school garden program, kids get excited about vegetables, native plants, and the environment.”

Nguyen says the challenges of running the center include time and resources. It’s run by a small team of dedicated staff and as the community grows, so do the center’s needs. She says they have had help from “long-time sponsors, Hurley and Chipotle, to help us get to the next level. We honestly would not be able to accomplish so much without their help and we feel a lot of gratitude for ethical companies who care about the impact they have on the community.” The center hopes to see more collaborations with various organizations, companies, and individuals.


©Scott Sporleder

She believes that the individual can have a positive impact on the environment. Just as the current ecological problems we’re facing aren’t the result of any one action, but rather “an accumulation of many unmindful actions,” we as individuals have the “responsibility and the power to change it. It’s all about awareness and choices. Ditch single use plastics. Buy local. We can all do something to chip away at that big goal and together, we can create big impact,” she says.

“We’ve learned through experience that community is a very powerful pathway to sustainability. We very excited for this opportunity to have a dialogue with the Modern Farmer community and looking forward to sharing our stories,” says Nguyen.



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Farm Policy Primer: What is a Conservation Easement? Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:15:48 +0000

There are rewards, both moral and financial, for not selling Grandpa’s farm to the local real estate developer.

The post Farm Policy Primer: What is a Conservation Easement? appeared first on Modern Farmer.

Ever wonder where the names of subdivisions come from? Often they are an ode to the farm that was razed to build them. Mr. Anderson’s farm becomes Anderson’s Acres, its idyllic pastures chopped up into little lawns fringed by neatly trimmed shrubbery. Fruitful Hills Orchard becomes Orchard Hill Homes, the springtime hum of honeybees drifting from one apple blossom to another replaced by the a constant drone of weed trimmers and leaf blowers.

It seems inevitable: Farmland on the fringe of cities is eventually devoured by the machine of (sub)urbanization. That is often the case, but there is a legal tool to prevent it—conservation easements—which can come with hefty financial incentives for the landowner.

A conservation easement is a legal restriction added to the deed of a piece of property, which prevents the land from being developed, in perpetuity. Beginning in the 1970s, conservation easements became a popular tool to encourage dense urban growth—rather than endless suburban sprawl—in an effort to preserve soil and water resources and wildlife habitat. Since then, the use of conservation easements has grown exponentially. Between 2000 and 2010, the acreage of conservation easements held by land trusts in the United States (which represents just a portion of total conservation easement acreage) rose almost fourfold from 2.3 million to 8.8 million.

The concept extends to preserving the historic elements of rural places, as well as preserving rural livelihoods. Agricultural conservation easements (ACEs) are a common type of conservation easement that allows farming activity to continue, but precludes most other types of economic development on the property. In exchange for placing a conservation easement on their property, landowners are entitled to significant tax benefits and, in some cases, may end up with a lump sum cash reward (more on that in a minute). The financial benefits may pale in comparison to the price a developer would pay for land in a rapidly developing suburban area, but it does sweeten the deal. However, you’ll also have the priceless reward of knowing that your great-great grandchildren can climb up in an apple tree you plant today and have a firsthand experience of where food comes from.

Making Sense of Land Use Law

From a legal perspective, the notion of private property is based around a concept called the “bundle of rights.” Rather than property ownership being an all-or-nothing affair—i.e. you either own it or you don’t—ownership is considered a collection of rights to use property in various ways, each of which may be bought and sold separately. Property rights include things like residency, restricting public access, extracting timber and minerals, raising crops, building things, etc, though each of these may be subject to restriction by local zoning ordinances and state and federal laws.

Another right of property owners is the right to subdivide land and sell parcels at a profit—this is the right that is given up when a conservation easement is placed on a property deed. A conservation easement does not prevent you from selling your land or bequeathing it to your children, though all future owners will be restricted by the easement placed on the deed. It’s a big decision, and it generally cannot be undone.

The exact details of an easement can vary greatly, however, so it’s possible to tailor them to your individual desires and circumstances. For example, it’s common to reserve the right to sever small plots of land from a larger farm for the sole purpose of giving, selling or bequeathing these parcels to family members to build a house. Likewise, you can reserve the right to further the develop the property for other agricultural uses in the future. If your son or daughter wants to move back to the land and build a new barn or a farm store to sell their wares, the easement can be worded to permit such activities.

ACEs generally do not include a provision for public access, though sometimes other types of conservation easements allow for this, mainly when there are unique natural features on the property that the landowner feels should be in the public domain. The idea of an ACE is to keep land within a family over the course of generations and to keep it in productive agricultural use. A third party is required to manage the conservation easement, however, which is usually in the form of a non-profit land trust organization or a purchase of development rights program (PDR) administered by the local government. Land trusts and PDRs help landowners set up conservation easements, and they are also in charge of enforcing them should a future owner or inheritor violate the agreement.

Setting Up a Conservation Easement

One of the first steps to establishing a conservation easement is to find a local farmland protection organization, such as a land trust or PDR, and set up a meeting to determine if your property, and your long term interests concerning its use, are a good match for the organization’s conservation goals. Then you’ll need a lawyer to help you craft the terms of the easement to your liking. This is where the question of financial incentives comes into play.

Most land trusts only accept donated conservation easements, while PDRs are designed to buy conservation easements. If the easement will be purchased, its value is calculated as the difference between its market value without the easement minus its market value with the easement, as determined by a professional appraiser. In other words, if a developer would be willing to pay you $10 million for your land (based on how much money they would make by subdividing it, building on it, and selling the homes), but it is only worth $1 million as farmland, the value of the easement would be $9 million. However, the purchase of easements is open to negotiation by the purchasing entity, who may not be willing to pay the true market value unless they see your property as having unusually high conservation value.

Still, there are always tax benefits when setting up a conservation easement. One reason that landowners are often forced to sell their property is because of rising tax values in rapidly urbanizing areas. Property tax is generally based on the value of the property, so if the value of a farm grows from $1 million to $10 million as a result of development pressure, property taxes will rise accordingly. Once a conservation easement is put into place, however, the land value in this scenario would drop back to $1 million for taxation purposes. Landowners who end up donating all or part of the value of the conservation easement can write off the donation, according to specific rules set up by the IRS for conservation easements, often resulting in significant tax savings.

Note: For specific legal advice, consult a lawyer.

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What Is This Weird Weed, and Why Are Farmers and Health Nuts So Into It? Thu, 19 Nov 2015 17:00:54 +0000

This could be the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid superfood of our dreams. Well, not ours. But it must be somebody's dream, right?

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Finally, a weed everyone can agree on: corn gromwell—which is not related to corn in any way—is seen by some in the UK as a possible new health food trend. For farmers, it's an easy to grow, native plant that might turn out to be worth an awful lot of money. So what is this thing?

So this weed is, scientifically, known both as Lithospermum arvense and Buglossoides arvensis, depending on who you ask. Its common names include corn gromwell, field gromwell, and bastard alkanet, every single one of which is a totally weird name. It’s in the borage family, also known as the forget-me-nots, which includes borage, fiddleneck, lungwort, and oysterplant. That last one might actually give you a clue as to why corn gromwell is so important.

Corn gromwell is generally considered a weed, a scraggly flowering plant that’s an invasive species where it’s been introduced, especially in North America. But in Scotland, where it’s native, it’s now being grown as a crop, because research indicates that corn gromwell’s seeds are extremely high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

These are essential nutrients for humans, who get them from all kinds of sources. Fish is a particularly good source, but there are plenty of others, including nuts like walnuts and pecans, seed oils from canola to flax, and eggs. But studies in the past few years indicate that corn gromwell, that infernal weed, actually contains in its seeds some bonkers levels of these essential fatty acids, even higher than fish. (Fish is the ideal source of these nutrients; that’s why fish oil exists.)

The EU this month awarded corn gromwell the status of “Novel Food,” a designation to let consumers know that this might be a new thing, but it’s safe and approved for consumption. In Scotland, reports the site Scotsman, more than 30 farmers have begun farming corn gromwell, seeing it as a possible new wonderfood especially for vegetarians or those who don’t eat seafood for whatever reason. The plant will probably be marketed under the also-not-very-good name of Ahiflower, so we predict you’ll start seeing Ahiflower seeds and Ahiflower oil in supermarkets soon.

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