Joel Salatin takes down conservation easements


I had to chuckle when I saw the headline on Joel Salatin’s column in Flavor magazine’s December/January issue. "Beware Those Sincere Conservation Easements." Only Joel! The guy is a true iconoclast.

Conservation easements have been a pet idea of the environmental community around here. Landowners give up development rights, government gives them tax breaks, and open space remains for all to enjoy. Tim Kaine exceeded his 400,000-acre land conservation goal largely through counting up conservation easements during his term in the governor’s office. It’s been a given in certain circles that it’s way better to have an easement on a property than to see it carved up into ticky-tacky house lots.

Which (unless you’re a homebuilder or developer) is pretty inarguable. But I’d never thought about the incompatability of easements and farming until I read Salatin’s piece. He points out that since no new structures may be built on land under easement, farmers may find themselves hamstrung in developing and strengthening their operations.

"Economic viability [for farms] today demands value-adding, which means on-farm infrastructure like you would expect to see in Williamsburg. Too often those policing these easements want to see cows, pretty pastures, and bucolic gambrel barns without realizing that such a landscape never existed sustainably. Real profitable and ecologically sensible working farms had smokehouses, butchering facilities, housing for workers, inventory and distribution centers, and a host of other synergistic enterprises."

It’s a compelling case. Anyone else have an opinion? I can’t find the story on Flavor’s site, so you’ll have to pick up a copy (check Rev Soup) to read it for yourself.