Preserving the land

Chris Lyon spent a cold Tuesday afternoon earlier this month shoveling leaves, spreading them around Ashland's Eagle Mill Farm to use as mulch for the soil. Between shovelfuls, he commented on the farm's beauty, and its value to the community."This is a fantastic operation," said Lyon, who runs a landscaping business in town. "I give them my grass clippings in the summer and leaves in the fall. It's a great thing for the community to have here."The farm is calling for help from all comers these days, and no one is answering the call like the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, which is currently securing funds to preserve the land for future generations."We've been working on the project for a number of years," said Michael Stringer with SOLC. "Now that we've had all the landowners make agreements, the next step is to secure the funding."Eagle Mill farm sits on 20 acres of land just north of Ashland. The land on and around the property has been farmed since the mid-19th century, and several property owners live around the farm today.Functioning as a non-profit body, the land conservancy strikes agreements with those property owners in accordance with state land-use laws. Doing so requires what is known as a conservation easement, which amounts to an agreement between SOLC and the owners to sustain the property as a functioning farm."We wouldn't take ownership, but we would become stewards through the conservation agreement," Stringer said.Fearing what could happen to the land were it one day slated for development, SOLC has reached that tentative deal with the landowners to become stewards over their properties, locking them in as protected farmland."The property has a number of outstanding features when you think about conservation," he said.

Those features include a grape orchard, seasonal pumpkin patch and vegetable gardens throughout the year. For years the farm has hosted a number of educational outreach programs, aimed at teaching children the values of farming through hands-on interaction."More than 2,000 students from throughout the Rogue Valley visit every year," Stringer said. "It has an outstanding educational element."In areas that are deemed in the public's best interest to conserve, SOLC receives partial funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a state agency entrusted with promoting the state's natural resources.In the case of Eagle Mill Farm, SOLC has raised $4,600 of the $12,000 needed to secure a conservation easement with the Eagle Mill landowners. The conservancy is reaching out to the locals in hopes of securing the remainder."Our hope is to be able to offer this is as a gift to the community for the holiday season," Stringer said.While acknowledging any proposal to develop the land would undergo scrutiny from county commissioners, Stringer says the land conservancy would rather not leave the future of the farm to chance."What about political whim? Tomorrow, the future — there's no certainty there," he said.Anyone interested in helping secure the Eagle Mill farmland can mail checks to Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, P.O. Box 954 in Ashland, or donate online at landconserve.org.Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact him at eglucklich@gmail.com.

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