Teton Regional Land Trust and Teton Full Circle Farm partnered to complete a conservation easement on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. The 21-acre farm northeast of Victor, Idaho is owned by Erika Eschholz and Ken Michael. The property is located in between the Targhee National Forest and Victor city limits. The small farm is highly valuable for production with water rights and a microclimate that create conditions which are some of the most favorable for agriculture in the valley. The Natural Resource Conservation Service considers 100% of the property’s soils as prime farmland. Conservation of the Teton Full Circle Farm protects farmland and open space, along with habitat for big game, songbirds, and raptors from the neighboring forest. Wildlife is spotted frequently on the property. Organic farms are also important to conserving rare pollinator species since pesticides can threaten their survival.
Eschholz and Michael chose to put a conservation easement on their property because it was important to them that this land will always remain as farmland. “The permanent protection of farmland supports local food, young farmers, healthy ecosystems, healthy lifestyles, and community. The funds from the conservation easement payment will go directly to pay off our farm loan which will allow us to put future farm-generated income into building a new farm sooner verses later. To top it off, because this land cannot be developed, it will be much more affordable for the next farmer,” they explained. “The quilt that is Teton Valley is full of beautiful, diverse squares, all held together by the thread of nature. The more land we protect for farms and wildlife habitat, the stronger this thread becomes, making a quilt to last for countless generations to come.”
Without being in a generational farming family, or having deep pockets, the cost of land is the biggest barrier of entry for new farmers. Conservation easements provide a financial-based solution and an important tool for making land affordable. These easements stay with the land forever. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization, such as the Land Trust, that limits certain uses of the land, like large scale development, in order to conserve the natural and traditional values of the land. Landowners grant conservation easements to protect the resources of their property for perpetuity while retaining the rights of private ownership.
The majority of the Land Trust’s conservation projects focus on landscape scale conservation of farms, ranches, and wildlife habitat. But supporting community projects, like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, provides community benefit and community conservation outcomes. CSA programs are an agreement between farmers and customers. By purchasing vegetables preseason, or making a workshare commitment, members receive vegetables and other farm products on a weekly basis. CSA members save time and energy while eating seasonal selections of our area’s finest and freshest certified organic food, all below farmers’ market prices.
“Completing this project was a unique opportunity to partner with the landowners and the community supported farm to protect vital farmland close to Victor for future generations,” said Joselin Matkins, Executive Director of the Land Trust. “We were so happy to see members of the community supporting this CSA. We received donations from over 40 individuals that gave to the Farmland Forever Fund.”
“Thank you to the Teton Community for your invaluable support in preserving the prime farmlands we all rely on. It is an incredible feeling to live in a place that values local food, farms, and a healthy connection to the natural world,” expressed Eschholz and Michael.
This conservation project was accomplished through a partnership between the Land Trust, the landowners, and other partners. Funding for this project came from the local community including the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture members, a generous donation by the Donald C. Brace Foundation, and Land Trust supporters. We also received a grant from New Belgium Brewing Company and other funding was provided by the United States Department of Energy in connection with the settlement of an enforcement action taken by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for alleged violations of the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Management Act.
TRLT has worked with partner organizations and willing landowners for the last twenty-eight years to protect over 34,000 acres through conservation easements and other voluntary conservation options.