By Jennifer Kuszmar, Acquisition Manager

For over 30 years, Ag + Open Space has worked with willing landowners to protect working farms and ranches throughout Sonoma County, especially those most at risk for conversion to non-agricultural uses. We are proud to have conserved 50 farms and ranches throughout the region, safeguarding our county’s rural character, our capacity for local food production, and the critical connections necessary for thriving farms, dairies, and ranches.

To date we have protected nearly 40,000 acres of land that directly support agriculture. The land we conserve produces milk and cheese, grass fed meats, seasonal vegetables and fruits, pasture raised eggs, orchard crops like apples and pears, honey, and wine. Our easements allow agriculture on most of the lands we protect, and 87% of our protected lands permit grazing, livestock production, cultivation, crop sales and processing, and the raising of bees, fish, and poultry. Further, nearly all the farms and ranches we’ve protected with easements are still working family farms and ranches today.

While we are proud of how we’ve been able to support our agricultural community, the work continues. With a host of challenges facing our local producers – climate impacts, market changes, development pressures, aging farmers – we are more committed now than ever to working with local landowners to ensure agricultural land stays in production so that our local agricultural industry not only remains viable but can thrive.

We are thrilled to share that we have 13 active agricultural conservation easement projects in the works. These projects are located throughout the county and include dairies, beef ranches, cultivated crop operations, and more.

In South County, we are working on two projects totaling 572 acres in the Penngrove area, on the flank of Sonoma Mountain. In the west Petaluma and Two Rock areas, we are working with seven different landowners to protect an array of agricultural properties including three active dairies, two cattle pastures to support other dairies, a former organic dairy that is now raising heifers, and a beef cattle ranch. Several of these properties are adjacent to or near other Ag + Open Space easement properties, which contributes to the large block of connected conserved agricultural lands in this region. Together, these projects total 2,635 acres.

Moving to West and North County, we have two active projects in the Laguna de Santa Rosa area, which will result in conservation easements that will protect both agricultural lands and sensitive natural resources along the Laguna. Similarly, further west near Freestone, we are working on a project that includes natural resource protection, as well as preservation of a grazing operation. Lastly, we are working with a landowner who owns a 120-acre vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley. These four projects amount to 1,225 acres in total.

Even as we work diligently to move these projects along, we know there are many more farms and ranches in need of support and our land conservation options can provide a source of revenue at this critical time. Our staff are poised to initiate proactive outreach to agricultural landowners in priority focus areas with standardized tools in place to streamline the conservation process. In this way, we can conserve more farms, ranches, and dairies more expeditiously for the benefit of everyone in our community.