Pictured: Aubrey & Rieta Wells (Thanks to Soil & Water Conservation District)
On Oct. 28, 2019, Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation’s Farmland Preservation Program closed on a conservation easement of 88.16 Acres in the scenic agrarian Sandy Mush Community.
The Property was awarded NCDA funds for the easement because of the high concentration of protecting agricultural soils on the property, their long history of farming in the community, and to protect their working family farm. Buncombe Soil and Water conservation District’s Farmland Preservation Coordinator Ariel Zijp, with the guidance of the Ag Advisory Board, raised the funds to protect this important property.
The Property is in close proximity and adjacent to a variety of farmland conservation easements within the Sandy Mush Community. By protecting this property, it adds to the significant protected lands within Buncombe County and the overall Blue Ridge mountain landscape.
Aubrey Wells Dairy Farm is in a multigenerational farming family, active within the Sandy Mush Valley since the turn of the 19th century. The family still has record of the original land grant that deeded the family their land in 1816. Majority of the neighboring properties are still within the Wells family and is protected in conservation easement with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Most recently, this farm has been in a dairy operation that was started by Aubrey Wells’ father in 1957. Wells started working at the dairy as a young child, helping his father with milking and moving cows. Rieta Wells, Aubrey’s wife, grew up in Madison County working on her family’s dairy farm. After Aubrey and Rieta married, they started dairying in the area and took over the Wells’ family dairy in 1980. The Aubrey Wells Dairy was the last dairy operation within northwest Buncombe County. In April 2019, Aubrey Wells Dairy converted to a beef cattle operation and sold the last of their dairy cows.
The Sandy Mush Community is a unique location within the state due to its high concentration of conserved farm and forestland. The landowners within the community have a passionate conservation mindset and are working to encourage even more conservation within the region. The community hopes to be able to protect the majority of the valley and use Sandy Mush Community to showcase what is possible in the way of conservation. The valley of protected farm and forestland could be used as a model for the rest of the nation to encourage conservation and to express the importance of protecting land and heritage. With Aubrey Wells Farm in the center of the community and with the long history of their family in the community, this farm is a perfect continuation of this conservation movement.
Pictured: Lynn Cox (private attorney), Rieta and Aubrey Wells (Landowners), Ariel Zijp (Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation), Jonathon Lanier (NCDA Attorney) (Thanks to Soil & Water Conservation District)
The Benefits of Protecting Working Lands
Working lands in North Carolina are a critical part of our heritage and economy. They supply us with food, fuel, fiber, as well as other benefits.
“Working farms and forests provide communities with a broad set of benefits, some immediate and tangible, and others more subtle and long lasting. At minimal cost, local citizens enjoy the economic, environmental, cultural, open space and fiscal amenities that agriculture provides, in addition to a safe and abundant supply of locally produced food.” (American Farmland Trust Planning for an Agricultural Future, p.3) The benefits are:
Economic: farming and forestry are major economic sources in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), agriculture provides $7 billion in direct sales and contributes a total of $62 billion in economic activity to the state’s economy. The forestry sector adds an additional $19 billion in economic activity.
- Environmental: North Carolina’s farm and forest landowners manage 23 million acres, over 83 percent of the non-federal land base in the state. All citizens depend on farmers to be stewards of our natural resources, providing clean water and wildlife habitats across the state.
- Rural Heritage: agriculture is a major part of the state’s cultural heritage, with farm families anchoring rural communities and providing an important piece of North Carolina’s unique historical character.
- Open Space: farms and forests provide wildlife habitats, green space, and beautiful views. North Carolina’s well-known scenic beauty attracts tourist dollars from around the world.
- Tax Savings: privately-owned working lands provide fiscal benefits, keeping property taxes low due to their minimal need of public services.
- Local Food: North Carolina farms are increasingly valued as a source of fresh, safe, and healthy food. The growth of farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and farm-to-school programs around the state point to strong consumer demand for locally grown fruits, vegetables, wines, meats, and dairy products.
You can learn more about Farmland Conservation at Soil & Water's website. If you want to learn more about Farmland Preservation contact Ariel Zijp from Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District.