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  NR 2010-01
January 6, 2010

    

Contacts:  Don Drysdale, Dept. of Conservation, (916) 323-1886

    Stephen Slade, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County (831) 429-6116

    Jessica Groves, NRCS, (530) 792-5604

SACRAMENTO – Few families have deeper roots in the Pajaro Valley than Diane Porter Cooley’s. She is a fifth-generation landowner in the area, and has ensured her family’s future ties to the land by agreeing to place agricultural conservation easements on 364 acres of property.

"My family has been farming here since 1851 and I'd like to see people continue to farm here," she said.

That she will. Four productive farms in the heart of the valley have been permanently set aside for agriculture in an arrangement involving the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, the California Department of Conservation (DOC), and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The properties, owned by Don and Diane Cooley or the Cooley Family Trust, include the Connell, Crown, Garooley and Home farms. The first two straddle both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties; the latter two are in Santa Cruz County. Ranging in size from 40 to 206 acres, the farms produce high-quality fruits and vegetables year-round, with raspberries and strawberries being particularly significant crops.

Diane Cooley is following in her parents’ footsteps.  The Porters donated 300 acres of farm and ranch land to The Nature Conservancy and the Elkhorn Slough Foundation.  The Cooley family in 2000 donated a conservation easement on 684 acres of ranchland in the hills east of the valley.  The family also donated 15 percent of the appraised value of the most recent easements (nearly $300,000) and will provide an endowment to help the Land Trust finance acquisitions and the costs associated with donated easements.

"We want to help protect this beautiful and productive valley for future generations," Diane Cooley said.

Land Trust Executive Director Terry Corwin hailed the Cooley family for its leadership in protecting farmland, saying: "They are not only protecting their land, but they are also providing the Land Trust with the means to help protect additional farmland in the valley."

Corwin noted the Land Trust has protected almost 1,400 acres of valley farmland in the last year.

 "This is just the beginning of our efforts to assure the agricultural future of the Pajaro Valley," she said.

Through its California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP), DOC provided $1.3 million in bond funds to help create the easements. CFCP already is engaged in protecting farmland in the Pajaro Valley through previous conservation efforts with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. With the new easements, there are two significant contiguous blocks of property shielded from development in the area.

“There is development pressure in the area from nearby Watsonville and Pajaro,” DOC Director Bridgett Luther said. “This project presents an opportunity to further solidify the agricultural economy of the valley by adding, in one fell swoop, four additional farms to the growing collection of permanently protected farmland. This area rivals the Salinas Valley in terms of its productivity and desirability for agriculture.”

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) contributed $389,500 through its Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program toward creating the easements.

"I applaud the efforts and commitment of the landowners, partners, and individuals that have made these easements possible," said Ed Burton, State Conservationist for NRCS. "Protecting agricultural land from conversion to non-agricultural uses helps keep the landscape healthy. It's gratifying to know that this rich, productive farmland will remain in agriculture, available to future generations, rather than disappearing forever from the landscape." 

About the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County: Formed in 1978 by local residents concerned about protecting the lands that make Santa Cruz County special, the Land Trust has protected more than 3200 acres of land and worked with other organizations to protect another 9,000 acres. The trust protects both working lands, like farms and timberland, and natural lands with high conservation value – thus protecting water supplies, wildlife habitats, and open space. For more information, visit www.landtrustsantacruz.org.

About the Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program: Begun in 1996, the CFCP has provided $68 million in funding to permanently shield about 43,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Division of Land Resource Protection for information about the program and potential funding. The state also offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years. For details, visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.

About the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP): The federal FRPP is a voluntary easement program that protects productive agricultural land by purchasing conservation easements to limit conversion of farm and ranch lands to non-agricultural uses. NRCS partners with state, tribal or local governments, and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. More information is available at www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov.

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