NR 2006-20
July 20, 2006

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


LOCAL CONTACTS: City of Davis, Mitch Sears (530) 757-5626; Solano Land Trust, Wendy Low, (707) 432-0150 ext. 208

SACRAMENTO -- The establishment of a greenbelt between Dixon and Davis took another step forward today with the completion of a farmland preservation project along Interstate 80. Nearly $2 million in state and local funding will help the City of Davis, City of Dixon and the Solano Land Trust purchase an agricultural conservation easement on the 146-acre Ebey-Laughtin property north of the freeway just off the Kidwell Road exit in Solano County. A local farming family purchased the easement-protected property and intends to expand the agricultural operations.

“Permanently shielding this farmland from development is a critical part of establishing an agricultural buffer, something the people in these communities desire,” said Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, a fourth-generation rancher. “Moreover, it’s another step in the state’s effort to protect some of the most productive farmland in the world from being paved over.”

The California Department of Conservation (DOC) provided $971,500 through the California Farmland Conservancy Program to ensure the project’s completion. The City of Davis contributed $810,000, the Solano Land Trust $115,000, and the City of Dixon $20,000 toward the purchase. In addition, the sellers contributed $75,000 of the appraised easement value through a bargain sale.

The ability to leverage state grants with local funding sources such as the Davis Agricultural Mitigation Fund make this type of farmland preservation project possible. Such significant financial contributions demonstrate the strong commitment to the project by all the funding partners. The cities and land trust recognize that without local funding readily at hand to match state grants, opportunities to achieve a shared vision of protected farmland and distinct communities in the I-80 corridor will be lost.

"This farmland conservation project once again demonstrates the value of cooperation and thoughtful planning,” said Ruth AsmundsonSue Greenwald, Mayor of the City of Davis. “The City of Davis is proud to have worked with Virginia Ebey and Jean Laughtin to ensure their family's legacy and is excited to see the new owners' innovative vision for the farm unfold in the coming years."

Last December, the DOC, Davis, Dixon, and the Solano Land Trust were part of a group that purchased a permanent easement on the adjacent 300-acre McConeghy Farm, which straddles the Kidwell Road exit on Interstate 80. As part of the project, the McConeghy and Ebey-Laughtin properties were combined for resale to a farming interest. Members of the Leatherby family purchased the portion of the

McConeghy Farm south of I-80. Rich and Shelly Collins purchased the northern portion of the McConeghy Farm and the Ebey-Laughtin farm.

The Leatherby family intends to grow a variety of nut crops for use in their family ice-cream business. Rich Collins is the president of California Vegetable Specialties, the only commercial producer of endive in the United States. Collins is working with a number of other local farmers to create a commercial farming venture that demonstrates sustainable farming practices and directly markets produce and locally-processed farm products to the public.

“We’re so excited to have the opportunity that lies before us,” Collins said. “I’ve had my eye on this property for well over 10 years and actually met with Mr. and Mrs. McConeghy in 1996. As new owners we intend to honor the property’s agricultural past while enhancing and maximizing its productive future all the while respecting the value of this wonderful open space.”

The California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP), administered by DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Local governments and non-profit organizations can apply for CFCP funds to purchase development rights from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation easements.

Although California leads the nation in agricultural production, farmland is being converted rapidly for development and other uses. Nearly 54,000 acres of irrigated farmland were taken out of production in the state from 2000 to 2002.

“Each year, a good-sized chunk of California’s farmland is developed,” DOC Director Bridgett Luther said. “While we recognize the inevitability of growth, there’s a finite amount of fertile land, so it’s important to preserve as much of it as we can.”

Since it began in1996, the CFCP has provided $47 million in grant funding to permanently shield 33,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development. An additional $8.3 million of Proposition 40 bond funds are targeted for farmland conversion in the upcoming fiscal year.

DOC also offers other land resource protection programs through the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years.

Solano Land Trust (SLT) was founded in 1986 as a pioneering collaboration between farmers, environmentalists, developers, and local government to preserve the agricultural legacy and natural landscapes of Solano County. SLT's mission is to permanently preserve and protect farmlands, open space, wetlands, and wildlife habitat through land acquisition, conservation easements, education, and land management. SLT owns 10 properties comprising 10,500 acres and holds easements on 14 properties comprising over 5,800 acres.

“We’re very pleased to have been a partner helping to ensure that this historic farmland, on prime soils, is permanently preserved,” said Marilyn Farley, Executive Director of the Solano Land Trust. “The new landowner has marvelous plans for an innovative agricultural enterprise that we hope will be a model for agriculture near rapidly urbanizing areas in the future.”