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AHS July Blog: The Beauty of Farmland

The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni, and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension, and human science. In the July blog post, AHS graduate student Sarah Smart discusses how to protect your family farm from development in North Carolina.

Sarah Smart, AHS Graduate Student

North Carolina farmers need to consider applying for conservation and preservation programs within their county and state. Funding from various state and private parties has been given to buy developmental rights to farmland. While placing an easement, that largely is permanent on land can be scary, it is one of the few tools in the farmers’ toolbox to protect their farm for the next generation. While some programs don’t allow any development or farming to take place, other programs allow farm activities to continue with limits on what structures can be built on the land in the future. Farmers should seriously consider meeting with their local Extension Service or Soil and Water District to see how they can apply to have the land they wish to use for crops and livestock for the foreseeable future in a preservation program. This is a serious decision and should only be pursued by farmers who desire to farm the chosen land for multiple generations in the future. Some programs expire in ten years, while others last longer. Farmers can visit to inquire about preserving their land.

North Carolina ranks 2nd, right behind Texas for farmland loss (Troxler et al.). The vast majority of North Carolina farms are multi-generational family farms. Some farmland is being sold due to the rising farm operational costs and lower profit margins. Other, farm families have had no choice but to shut their doors to development as even the extremely large farm operations survive on slim profit margins. The small family farms that dot North Carolina from mountains to coast struggle to survive the continuous battle of managing stress, financial hurdles, increasing urban sprawl, and shifting regulations and consumer opinions. 

Haywood County, where my family’s generational diversified farming operation is headquartered is working with Haywood County Soil and Water Conservation District to pursue a Voluntary Agriculture District or VAD. This program preserves and protects farmland, forestland, and horticultural land from non-farm development according to Haywood Soil and Water District. Haywood County’s Soil and Water Conservation District explains farmland preservation. Learn more about VADs at

My family’s decision to pursue a farmland preservation program has been met with both praise and criticism, mostly due to the more permanent nature of such things. My family made our decision because of the increasing development we see happing in our county. Apartment buildings are being built left and right. We see our neighbor’s farm being bought for millions only to be replaced by a housing development. While I’m happy for nice homes and apartments to be built for people, my heart is broken for the permanent removal of farmland. To make the pain worse, much of the new housing is too expensive for native Haywood County citizens. I know that this narrative is not rare because when talking to those in the agriculture community all across North Carolina I hear the same story of development. 

Main Farm Area of Smart Farms

I remember growing up that my parents would take me and my twin brothers on summer vacations. We didn’t go often because as farmers we were rarely able to leave the farm. However, I remember the few times we could get away for a week to visit somewhere my Dad would regularly pull over on the side of the road and gaze at farmland. When I was a child, this was the most bizarre and annoying thing. My brothers and I would fuss and complain and say something like, “Dad come on, we see crops and livestock at home! We work on a farm every day!” My Dad, an extremely tall, classic overall-wearing fellow stuck between the old and new age of farming would always grin in response to our whining. After one of these bouts of complaints, my Dad finally looked at us and said, “I stop and gaze at the farms we pass because there is nothing more beautiful than seeing the land that a family like us has dutifully stewarded. There is something distinctly American and holy in gazing at the land that provides us freedom, food, fiber, energy, clean air, and water, and for us–a divine purpose.” Since then I have grown to become a weekday agriculture educator and FFA advisor and weekend farmer with my family. Now I catch myself stopping at farmland I pass during my many travels to soak in the beauty of the land that serves as the canvas for my divine purpose in this life. 

A few years ago, when I was going through back-to-back diagnoses of cancer my family’s big red barn that housed hay, tobacco, a portion of our dairy cattle, and equipment burned to the ground. This barn was the oldest structure on the farm dating back to my grandfather’s youth. Still to this day the devastation and emotional turmoil haunt my family. Only someone that grew up on a farm or has a farm will truly understand that there is a point where your farm becomes a living, breathing entity that you are responsible for sustaining. It becomes like a limb of your body or like a beloved family member. The trauma of watching your farm burn and the crimpling fear of the fire consuming the entirety of your generational farm is haunting. The fear of losing my family’s farm is embalmed on my soul. Since then we can operate normally, however, we are still working to rebuild and improve what was once destroyed. My brother wrote an account of the event and it can be read here: 

While natural disasters, electrical fires, urban development, regulations, profit cuts, consumer opinions, increasing operational costs, lawsuits, foreign powers, and hundreds of more things can take my family’s farm. Placing my family’s farm in a preservation program eliminates one of these threats. Additionally, it makes several other areas like nuisance lawsuits and regulations less likely to negatively impact our farm. Every time I pass land that used to be farmland it makes my heart ache; land that sequestered carbon, provided a livelihood and legacy to a family, and provided food, fiber, and energy for people. I encourage North Carolinians to support legislation that provides funding for farmland preservation programs. Finally, I ask all farm families to look into ways to preserve your farmland so that we can preserve one of the most precious and limited resources to North Carolina’s culture and agricultural future.  

More options for farmland in NC: 

More information from NC State and farmland loss:

Works Cited:

  • Troxler, Steve, et al. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Thomas Woodard & Team, 2022.