SLT in the News

Winters church, trust reach land deal

Author: By Robin Miller/ RMiller@TheReporter.com
Date: Jan 24, 2012

Posted: 01/24/2012 01:02:42 AM PST

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Cyclists travel along Putah Creek Road near agricultural land owned by St. Anthony s Parish in Winters which has now granted easements to the Solano Land Trust that will keep the land in agricultural use in perpetuity. (Rick Roach/RRoach@TheReporter.com)

Prime agricultural land along Putah Creek east of Winters will remain in agricultural use thanks to a deal reached recently between the Catholic parish in Winters and the Solano Land Trust.

Solano Land Trust and St. Anthony Parish closed escrow last week on three adjacent conservation easements that will protect the 595 acres of St. Anthony Parish Farmland Preserve along Putah Creek.

The California Farmland Conservancy Program and USDA's Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program provided grants for the agreement. The parish, which retains full ownership of the land, plans to use the equity to build a new church in Winters.

All sides praised the deal as a "win-win" for agriculture and the Winters community.

 

Telephone poles line Putah Creek Road near agricultural land owned by St. Anthony s Parish in Winters which has now granted easements to the Solano Land Trust that will keep the land in agricultural use in perpetuity. (Rick Roach/RRoach@TheReporter.com)

Parishioner John Hasbrook explained that the land was donated to the parish in the 1990s by a longtime local farming family with the condition that it be kept in agricultural use.

"And that really is the best use for this land," Hasbrook said. "It is class 1 soil, meaning it is some of the best farming land in the world and it has phenomenal water with Putah Creek right there. So it is appropriate that the parish put it under an agriculture easement so that it can be used to grow food in perpetuity."

Hasbrook said the easement deal with the Land Trust has an added benefit as well in that the funds from the sale of the easement to the land trust -- about $2 million -- will be used by the parish to build a new church in Winters along with a meditation garden.

Under the agreement, the parish retains full ownership of the land while farming or leasing it for agricultural purposes. Non-agricultural development will not be allowed except for housing for farm families or workers.

With the loss of farm land to development through the years, Hasbrook said he is happy to see local prime agricultural land such as this protected.

"It's one thing when you develop land that is class 3 or 4 soils with lots of rocks and so on. It is a completely other thing when you pave paradise to put up a parking lot," he said. "That's what they did in Santa Clara when I was a kid and you can argue that the Silicon Valley's computer chips are more valuable than farmland but those chips don't taste good!"

Conservation agreements like the deal with the land trust help to protect top-grade soil for local food production, and preserve the economics of agriculture, land trust officials noted. Agriculture is a vital part of the local economy. According to the Solano County Department of Agriculture, the value of agricultural production in 2010 was nearly $260,000,000, a three percent rise from the previous year.

"We welcome St. Anthony Parish to our land trust community as we partner to preserve essential agricultural lands," said Nicole Byrd, executive director of Solano Land Trust in a press release announcing the easement deal. "It is partnerships like these that ensure the continuity of Solano County's rich agricultural heritage." To date, Solano Land Trust has protected 20,636 acres of land in the county including 8,448 acres of farmland.

State officials were equally as pleased with the deal.

"We're pleased to have been a part of this project, which will ensure the continued agricultural viability of this productive and scenic property," said Mark Nechodom, director of the California Farmland Conservancy Program.

The St. Anthony Farmland Preserve is near Putah Creek on the Dixon Ridge, an alluvial fan of high-quality soils. Solano Land Trust has identified Dixon Ridge as a priority agriculture preservation area along with Vaca, Lagoon, Suisun and Green valleys.

Follow Managing Editor Robin Miller at Twitter.com/RobinMiller1883.