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Employee Spotlight: Ariel Zijp & Avni Naik Secure More than $1.1M for Farmland Preservation

Ariel Zijp and Avni Naik pose with a farm in the background

Recently Buncombe Soil and Water Conservation District received more than $1.11 million from the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund placing Buncombe County second in the state for grant dollars awarded for conservation easements. This grant award will allow the County to permanently protect 274 acres, bringing our community closer to meeting our Strategic Plan’s goals as well as a recent goal set by the Board of Commissioners to conserve 20 percent of the county's total acres by 2030. 

Without grant funding many Buncombe landowners, especially farmers, would not be able to put their property into a permanent conservation easement. Some grant processes can take up to a year to come to fruition, and central to securing this grant are Farmland Preservation Program Managers Ariel Zijp and Avni Naik. “Together Ariel and Avni are the Dynamic Duo of Farmland Preservation,” says Ag & Land Resources Director Jennifer Harrison. “Their intellect, commitment, drive, experience, and passion are just a few of the reasons the program is so successful. Ariel and Avni are a force in the state for preservation, and this is supported through the recent success with grants. For Buncombe County to be second in the state in terms of grant dollars awarded for conservation easements is a testament to these traits. They deserve recognition for their efforts and success! I couldn’t be prouder of them!"

We asked Ariel and Avni to share a little about the grant process and what goes into the important work of Farmland Preservation.

Q: What is one thing you want people to know about the grant or farmland preservation?

A: The process can take anywhere from one to four years from start to finish depending on the complexity of the funding and grant agencies involved. There is a lot of work and correspondence happening behind the scenes to ensure that an easement closes. At the end of the day, it is worth all the work to protect prime soils, working forests, water quality, wildlife habitat, farmers' livelihoods, and a piece of Buncombe County’s history. 

Q: How does this align to the work you are doing?

A: These grants make it possible to fund easements for landowners that can't afford to fully donate their development rights. Farming is hard work, and we want to be able to compensate our farmers for their land, work, and contribution to Ag in Buncombe. The funding allows us to make a bargain purchase for the development rights for four projects in Buncombe County.

Q: How will this impact Buncombe County?

A: This funding is specific to four projects in the Newfound Community in Leicester. It will protect 274 acres of farm and forestland that have been under farm use for over a century. Impacts of conserving these kinds of acreages are difficult to calculate. Leaving land like this undeveloped provides water quality protection and stormwater management, provides land security for future farmers, provides habitat for wildlife, and protects soils for crop production that is important for food security. It can be difficult to get tangible calculations for some of these benefits. There are significant water resources that will help protect the watershed as upwards of 100,000 gallons of water come off this property a day. In addition to the natural resource impacts, by protecting this property, we are planting a seed of conservation in this community. Farmers trust one another, especially those whose families have been working the land side by side for hundreds of years. As we protect a farm in one region, the seed of conservation is planted in other families’ minds. That is how we start to make more progress of protecting lands in proximity, which ultimately has a greater impact than scattered conservation.

Q: What is one thing you want the community to know?

A: While landowners can get some compensation if they are eligible for grant funds, they are only getting compensation for a portion of what they are giving up. These landowners are giving up a lot. The passion for the land and for conservation is strong in these communities, and by protecting the land they are giving up the chance to sell it for a high price to a developer. But most are assured that they are protecting it as a working farm and forest for future generations to use. 

Q: What happens now?

A: Now, we wait for the contract to come in. Once we complete the contract, we can start on the easement process. We contract out with the services we need like surveyors, appraiser, legal team etc. Then we start to work with the landowner and the surveyors to create the survey, planning any future uses of the property. In a year or two, once all due diligence is finished and all documents are approved by the grant and County, we will close the easement and permanently protect those 274 beautiful acres.

This work is central to achieving progress in our Environment and Energy Stewardship focus area, and they just recently secured $224,000 additional dollars from the federal government (USDA) for a farm outside Weaverville. Please join us in sharing congratulations with Ariel, Avni, and Ag & Land Resources.





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Updated Dec 29, 2022 07:58 AM
Published Aug 23, 2022 11:00 AM