In the midst of fruit trees and evergreens, several ponds and corn stalks, Keith Jackson’s 60-acre piece of land is devoid of urbanization. And by signing a lease agreement with the state of Ohio, Jackson is doing all he can to ensure that housing subdivisions and commercial developments never take root on this farm.
In the midst of fruit trees and evergreens, several ponds and corn stalks, Keith Jackson’s 60-acre piece of land is devoid of urbanization.
And by signing a lease agreement with the state, Jackson is doing all he can to ensure that housing subdivisions and commercial developments never take root on this farm.
Jackson’s property, about three miles northeast of Minerva in Columbiana County’s West Township, is part of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Easement Donation Program.
As a means of preserving farmland, the state has easement agreements that restrict the property for agricultural use. The easement remains in effect even after Jackson passes on the property by sale or death.
“When I die, it stays in one piece,” said Jackson, 83. “It has to be sold as the whole 60 acres. I have been on this land about 60 years. I can’t get any immortality, but the place does. As long as it isn’t developed for homes, I am not too particular about it. It has to stay agricultural. It could be sold to anybody. I don’t have anything against suburbia. But I don’t think you should pack them that tight.”
Few in program
Jackson is the only property owner in Columbiana County to sign up for the program. There are no such farms in Stark County.
Two Carroll County farms are enrolled. One is on nearly 70 acres in the 300 block of Canyon Road, south of Carrollton in Union Township. It is owned by Bruce Burgett.
The other is a 254-acre farm in the 4000 block of Meter Road in Augusta Township, about five miles southeast of Minerva. The property owner is James McClester.
“These agricultural easements are voluntary legal agreements that restrict nonagricultural development on farmland. Certainly, it helps preserve our farmland for future use. It helps us to provide fresh and nutritious produce. By doing this we invest in the future of agriculture,” said Kaleigh Frazier, a public relations officer for the state Department of Agriculture.
No longer actively engaged in farming, Jackson leases fields on his property to grain farmers. Jackson was a farmer in the past.
“I raised 50 head of cattle,” he said. “I did that for years and years while I worked at Timken (Co.) and Baxter Tube (now Caraustar in Minerva).”
Under the agreement, not even Jackson’s children can sell the land in pieces.
“They are pretty well set, so far,” Jackson said. “I did not want to bust it up. They said it was fine. I own a lot of frontage. I have been offered lots of deals. They wanted a couple of acres off the front. I could make money. But I am not desperate in terms of money. It is just my crazy attitude. I have worked this land, and I wouldn’t want it busted up.”
The easement is intended to exist indefinitely. But there are circumstances in which the agreement can be broken. For instance, the agreement can be voided if the land is acquired through eminent domain.
Jackson reached his agreement with the state in 2008.
“I am with that type of deal, to keep the farms,” said Michael Ray, one of West Township’s three trustees. “I applaud him if that is what he is trying to do. Housing developments ... don’t happen in West Township. Chopping it up and selling it up in parcels, anybody that is interested in seeing West Township survive is against (that). West Township is a farming community.”
A chance to preserve
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has 44 farms — more than 5,500 acres — enrolled in the Agricultural Easement Donation Program.
“Certainly, we see it as worth the effort,” Frazier said. “This gives us a chance to preserve farmland. I would assume it also comforts the landowners in knowing their land will always be used for agricultural purposes.”
While the easement program is under the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts monitor lease agreements in the respective counties.
“Once a year, we go out to the farms and make sure they are complying with the restrictions in the easements, which is basically that the farm has to stay in agriculture,” said Linda Yeager, administrator for the Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“They can’t build houses on it. They can’t parcel it off. They can’t quit farming and just let it grow up. They have to actively farm it.”
The McClester farm in northern Carroll County was the first farm in Ohio to sign up for the agricultural easement program. That agreement was established in 1999.
Bruce Burgett, the other Carroll County farm owner, operates a beef farm. Burgett stepped into the easement program when he purchased the land from a farmer who established the agreement in 2005. However, Burgett agreed with the easement to preserve land.
“We are making a big mistake to keep developing farmland,” Burgett said. “It is just a personal philosophy I have.”