Where the bison once roamed

Where the bison once roamed

Dear Ace: Where’d the bison out in Albemarle County go?—Buffalo Bill

Buffalo: Yes, local food-lovin’ Charlottesville has lost some local food. The bison around here have gone the way of the buffalo, as it were. What’s the deal?

The 100 or so bison that were here until recently were residents of Georgetown Farm, an operation opened in Free Union in 1977 by Edgar Bronfman, Sr., who made billions as president of Seagram’s distillery. Bronfman has also held the title of Charlottesville resident, and it was apparently while in Charlottesville that he recognized the potential of a bison ranch. Georgetown also raised cattle, but of course, cows aren’t as novel as their wooly cousins.

Five years ago, Georgetown Farm was doing quite well. In 1998, it opened Buffalo Hill butcher shop and slaughterhouse in Madison County, and in October 2002, it opened a Georgetown Farm Market in Albemarle Square. So what happened? Your guess is as good as Ace’s, as no one from the Bronfman family or their legal team could be reached for comment, but the simplest answer is usually the right one. By April 2004, the farm and the two stores all began shutting down, most likely just because they weren’t turning a profit anymore.

In June 2005, Edgar Bronfman transferred ownership of the property on which Georgetown Farm stood to EMB, a limited liability company, as a gift. But Ace surmises that, philanthropist though Bronfman may be, the “gift” wasn’t exactly a gift. Given that EMB shares its initials with a certain Edgar M. Bronfman and given that, according to public records on file with the clerk’s office at the State Corporation Commission, EMB’s sole offices are located on the property of Georgetown Farm, Ace, in his tremendously marginal legal opinion, thinks Bronfman may have given the farm to himself in order to hold it in trust. Forming an LLC to do just this is fairly common in real estate law and protects property owners from liabilities they might not avoid as individuals. But again, no word from the Bronfman camp either way, so this ain’t the gospel truth.

One final question, though: Where’d the bison themselves go? Once more, Ace can only conjecture here, but Bronfman happens to own another farm, the much larger Georgetown West out in Oklahoma. The western division at last count had about 20 times as many bison as its Free Union counterpart. The Georgetown bison most likely went west, young man.

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