Chapel Hill News

Farmers conserve county’s agricultural land, legacy

Kim and Chad Woods visit with their beef cows on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, at Spring Crest Farm on Pearson Road in Hurdle Mills. The Woods recently added 15 acres to their Orange County voluntary agricultural district holdings, for a total of nearly 99 acres in the VAD program.
Kim and Chad Woods visit with their beef cows on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, at Spring Crest Farm on Pearson Road in Hurdle Mills. The Woods recently added 15 acres to their Orange County voluntary agricultural district holdings, for a total of nearly 99 acres in the VAD program. tgrubb@newsobserver.com

Kim and Chad Woods grew up in the same rural Orange County community, helping their families raise tobacco, hay, vegetables and livestock on century-old farms.

They still live amid the rolling pastures and creeks at Spring Crest Farm, although they sold the dairy cows and transitioned to beef in 1995. The farm is a passion they share when they aren’t working – Kim is a Person County Cooperative Extension livestock agent; Chad is a Carrboro firefighter.

The land has been in her family since at least 1879, Kim Woods said. The plan is to keep it producing long into their retirement. That family pride in farming and preserving the land factored in their decision to put roughly 99 acres in the county’s voluntary agricultural district program, she said.

“We, as a farm family, feel that it’s important to protect and conserve the agricultural land that’s in Orange County, just so that it can continue to be productive, agricultural land and produce the food and fiber that we need here in this country,” Woods said.

The county has enrolled 70 farms and roughly 10,395 acres in the voluntary and enhanced voluntary agricultural district programs since 1992, including 10 local farms that were approved this month.

The programs started in 1985 with the state’s Farmland Preservation Enabling Act, creating areas where commercial farming would be protected and encouraged. Farmers can back out of the voluntary program any time but must remain in the enhanced voluntary districts for at least 10 years.

The designation is largely honorary but does give farms more protection from encroaching development and nuisance lawsuits, lets potential neighbors know there’s a working farm nearby and helps when applying for preservation grants.

Qualifying farms must meet several requirements:

▪ Be located in the county’s unincorporated area

▪ Be in agricultural use as defined by state law

▪ Be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service as a farm where at least two-thirds of the land is suited for food, fiber, timber or seed production

▪ Follow erosion-control practices recommended by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and N.C. Soil and Water Conservation Service and have a conservation farm plan and/or forestry management plan

▪ Have a non-binding conservation agreement with the county that prohibits non-farm use or development for at least 10 years

Bill Latta, 76, and his brother Tate Latta, 70, have one of the largest holdings in the county’s VAD and EVAD programs at more than 622 acres.

The Milton A. Latta and Sons Dairy Farms on Edmund Latta Road has been in the family for three generations and still produces beef cattle, hay, grain, corn and timber, Bill Latta said. A cousin bought the dairy cows and now manages that operation.

The Lattas joined the program because they’ve always been interested in conserving the land, Bill Latta said. Nearly 364 acres are listed as a voluntary agricultural district now, while roughly 259 more acres are in the enhanced district.

The development inching north from Hillsborough also has them concerned, he said, about the potential for problems with neighbors unfamiliar with odors, dust and other aspects of rural life. They want to get along and keep the farm in business, he said.

“We’ve got development all around here, and everybody needs to know there’s a farm here,” Latta said. “Sometimes city folks don’t understand country folks and country animals, and all that comes along with it.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Learn more

An application and more information about the benefits of Orange County’s voluntary agricultural district and enhanced voluntary agricultural district programs can be found at bit.ly/1Z5FsUs or call the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District Division at 919-245-2750.

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