Special to the Tribune
Alexander – At a recent hearing on a 270-unit apartment complex on Leicester Highway, several residents expressed concern over the loss of farmland. There is a group trying to preserve the rural way of life and they recently saved over 100 acres.
Acccording to a press release the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) permanently protected 118 acres at Ridgeview Farm in Alexander, closing on a conservation easement that had been in the works for five years. Located in an area of intense development pressure just two miles from SAHC’s Community Farm, the historic homestead farm contains a high percentage of agriculturally important soils.
“Alexander is a rare gem in WNC, containing a much higher concentration of important agricultural soils than the surrounding region,” says Jess Laggis, SAHC’s farmland program director. “But it is also disproportionately under development pressure due to its ease of access from Asheville, the relative ease of development on low-lying bottomlands, and the undeniable beauty of the mountain views from its rolling hills. And yet, despite these pressures, Alexander remains a relatively intact farming community. We are deeply grateful to Brandon Hensley and the Bridges family for their commitment to conservation and their decision to protect this property forever.”
A deep connection to his family’s land inspired Hensley to continue working with SAHC over the lengthy 5-year process to permanently protect Ridgeview Farm. The young farmer, in his mid-30s, is carrying on his family’s legacy as the 5th generation to work this land.
“I owe it to my family,” Brandon shares. “My main goal was just to keep the heart of the farm together. My grandparents’ homeplace is here.”
Although the original log cabin is long gone, Brandon remembers it as a child, growing up with a close connection to his grandparents and the land.
“I think my grandfather would be very happy,” he continues. “My grandparents farmed for a living – that was their life. I wanted to do the conservation easement so that this land will stay this way – it will be protected forever. In the next few years, if building keeps going as it is, there won’t be any farms left around Asheville.”
Currently used for hay and cattle production, the NC Century Farm was formerly the site of dairy operations. The family contacted SAHC about a conservation easement because they wanted to keep the land in the family, continue to farm it, and protect it from development. The protected farm tract contains 93% important agricultural soils, which are a precious commodity in the mountains.
This project was made possible with grant funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, NC Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, Buncombe County, and the Conservation Trust for NC, in addition to support from SAHC members, a generous gift by Brad and Shelli Stanback, and donation of a substantial portion of the easement value and stewardship contribution from the landowners.
The SAHC is a non-profit land trust conserving land and water resources in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, SAHC has protected over 75,000 acres of unique plant and animal habitat, clean water, farmland, scenic views, and places for people to enjoy outdoor recreation. More info at Appalachian.org.