After Six Generations, Making Sure The Family Farm Stays A Farm Forever

Mar 18, 2015

The Johnson farm covers 311 acres and includes two islands. Photo courtesy of The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

Alarmed that farmland in New Hampshire is being lost to development, an unconventional type of conservation easement that encourages farming is literally gaining ground...

Tuesday Richard Johnson became the latest example.

Six generations of Johnson’s family have farmed 311 acres in Monroe since 1803.

At age 63, he’s the last of his family and it was an emotional moment when the burly, shy farmer signed an agreement that would ensure the acreage would remain farmland forever.

 “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” he said, his voice cracking a bit. “I’d like it to stay open and I get paid for it, too.”

Richard Johnson: "I'd like it to stay open and I get paid for it, too."
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Johnson, was signing the documents for what’s described as a farm-friendly conservation easement, in this case with the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

Johnson still owns the land and gets paid for allowing the easement under which he can sell the land but it can only be used for farm or forestry.

The idea is to keep it from being developed while still allowing somebody to make a living on it.

Rebecca Brown is the executive director of the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.

“The big difference is that no future owner can come along and plant houses.”

The deal includes two islands in the Connecticut River that will be managed by the Vermont River Conservancy. One of those will be developed as a campsite for the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Such farm-friendly conservation easements are happening more often around the state, says Lorraine Merrill, the commissioner of the state’s department of agriculture.

"It makes farms and farmland more affordable to farmers," she said.

Such an easement holds developers at bay and make it possible for current farmers to expand or people who want to try farming to get started. 

"I think that people are finally beginning to understand that farmland is a limited commodity in our state," said Dijit Taylor, the executive director of the Land & Community Heritage Investment Program.

The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust was started about 15 years ago and has conserved about 3,000 acres in the North Country.