September 5, 2007
Contact: Don Drysdale
SACRAMENTO – Kimberly and Daniel DeSerpa spent only a portion of their childhood living on the farm their great grandfather established in the late 1800s near Salinas. Yet the small farm made such an impression on them that they decided to forego the potential riches developing the property could have brought, choosing instead to permanently preserve the 55 acres for agricultural use with the help of a local land trust and state funding.
“I’m an ordinary person, not someone who has a lot of money,” Kim DeSerpa said. “I know that the local school district paid millions of dollars to acquire another Salinas Valley farm to build a new school. We might have been able to make that kind of money on our property if we were willing to see it paved over.
“But I care about protecting the Earth and I have deep feelings for this property. I felt that preserving the farmland was the right thing to do. It’s our homestead farm. My grandmother thoughtfully preserved the property for my brother and me. Similarly, I want to save it for generations to come.”
The Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP) recently provided $339,250 to the Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy to purchase an agricultural conservation easement on the property. The DeSerpa family contributed in the form of a bargain sale price. While the development rights are extinguished, the family maintains ownership.
California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, a fourth-generation Tulare County rancher, understands just how the DeSerpa siblings feel about their property, saying: “It’s their family’s legacy, and it obviously means a lot to them, just as my family’s ranch means a lot to me. From the Resources Agency’s perspective, it’s important to preserve as much of our top-quality farmland as possible. There’s only so much of it, and agriculture is a major facet of the state’s economy.”
Supported by bonds, the CFCP has provided $53 million in funding to keep about 35,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable farmland in agricultural use. Local governments and non-profit organizations can apply for CFCP funds to purchase development rights from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation easements.
“We’re very pleased to help ensure that the DeSerpa farm will always remain in agricultural use,” Department of Conservation Director Bridgett Luther said. “There’s a great deal of growth in the Salinas Valley, and it’s starting to creep toward the DeSerpa’s property. Now we can be certain that this outstanding piece of farmland will be preserved.”
The farm is located about a mile west of Salinas’ sphere of influence in the Blanco District, which contains some of the most productive and desirable land in the valley. The DeSerpa siblings – Kim is a social worker in Aptos while Daniel works in management for musician Carlos Santana – lease the property to a local grower, who produces two vegetable row crops and a berry crop per season. The DeSerpas conscientiously lease to small farming operations that commit to good stewardship of the land.
The DeSerpas’ great grandfather, John G. DeSerpa, migrated to California from Portugal in the 1840s. He purchased the now-protected land in 1882, and raised six children there with his wife Mary. His sons, Alexander (grandfather of Kim and Dan) and Richard, continued the farming tradition. Kim and Dan’s father, John R. DeSerpa, hoped to take over farming operations on the family’s original farmstead. Unfortunately, he was killed at the age of 25 in a traffic accident, and his family moved off the farm.
“I was probably 5 years old – Dan’s younger than me – when my mom Nancy decided we’d be safer in the city,” Kim DeSerpa said. “My father was an only child, so there was no one in the family who could run the farming operations. We leased the property out, but it has always had a lot of sentimental value. The property still looks very much like it did when my grandfather ran the farm. That’s the way I’d like to keep it.”
The DeSerpa easement bolsters other easements the land trust oversees as part of its strategy to steer development toward lesser-quality soils east of Salinas. To date, Monterey County has been the focus of more CFCP grants than any other county. The program has funded 21 conservation easements on approximately 5,400 acres of farmland.
“Agriculture is a huge part of our local economy, so our goal is to preserve as much farm and ranch land as we can,” Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy Managing Director Brian Rianda said. “The Salinas Valley is known as ‘The Salad Bowl of the World.’ We want to try to guide the growth of our communities away from the best soil whenever possible. We’re thankful for the Department of Conservation’s support of our efforts.”
The Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy has completed 60 conservation
easements on more than 19,000 acres. Kim DeSerpa commended the land trust for its work on her family’s farm.
“Honestly, when we heard that creating an agricultural conservation easement on the property was an option, my brother and I were torn about what to do,” she said. “Brian Rianda and the land trust did a great job of giving us all the information we needed and allowing us to reach our own conclusions in our own timeframe. We’re very happy with how things have worked out.”
CFCP funds are still available for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to visit the CFCP Web page.