January 17, 2007
Contact: Ed Wilson
SACRAMENTO – Historic Level Lea Farm near Pescadero will remain farmland forever under an agreement involving the landowners, state and federal government, and a local land trust.
Meredith Reynolds wouldn’t have it any other way. Her family has owned the land since before the Civil War.
“This land is very meaningful to me,” Reynolds said. “My family always taught me that it had to be kept as it was, not sold and parceled out. This conservation easement is a wonderful thing for us.”
The California Department of Conservation (DOC) and the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, provided funding to the Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy to make the agricultural conservation easement project possible. The conservancy will hold the easement.
“Central Coast farmland is some of the most productive in the world,” noted Brian Leahy, head of the DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection (DLRP). “The coastal climate, long growing season and high-quality soils can produce a wide array of crops that are difficult to grow in many other parts of the country. It was important to ensure that this wonderful farmland not be developed in the future.”
Meredith and James Reynolds received a lump-sum payment and potential tax benefits as part of the easement transaction. The easement extinguishes the property’s development potential while allowing the family to maintain ownership and control over agricultural activities on the property. They have lived on the land since the late 1970s, in a house built in 1914 by Asa Weeks, one of Meredith’s ancestors. Four Weeks brothers immigrated to California from Maine with Meredith’s great, great, great uncle, Lafayette Chandler, who bought the property in 1860.
“There has been a Lafayette in the family since the Revolutionary War,” Reynolds said, explaining that the Marquis de Lafayette was a French nobleman who came to America to support the Revolution in dire times and served on General George Washington’s staff.
“When Lafayette Chandler and the brothers came west, they weren’t gold prospectors. They came here
to farm. They must have thought this was heaven – beautiful, productive land with great growing weather.”
And what about the farm’s name?
“Lea means newly cleared, level pasture land, which it was to Lafayette,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “He was used to farming the rocky, hilly terrain of Maine, so the fact that the land was level was significant to him. I would have loved to have been here when they first cleared it.”
Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds lease the property to a tenant farmer who grows irrigated vegetable crops. The farm produces nearly $1 million worth of agricultural products each year.
The 192-acre Level Lea Farm is located in one of the last remaining commercial agricultural areas in San Mateo County and was the last remaining unprotected land between Pescadero and the ocean. The farm is 1.5 miles from Highway 1 and near the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. The easement guarantees that the approach to Pescadero, through farm fields, will not change.
"The Level Lea Farm easement ensures that this rich, historic Central Coast farmland, which produces nutritious food for California and the world, will be protected for future generations to come," said Ed Burton, State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. "I applaud the efforts and conservation ethic of all the conservation partners involved who helped secure the easement."
This is the Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy’s third easement project in San Mateo County. Within Monterey County, the conservancy has completed 60 conservation easements on more than 19,000 acres.
“While our name says `Monterey County,’ our goal is to help preserve as much farm and ranch land as possible, wherever we can find willing partners,” conservancy Managing Director Brian Rianda said. “There are several other farms in the Pescadero area, and our impression is that other landowners also are interested in the easement option.”
About Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP): Begun in 1996, the CFCP has provided $63 million in funding to permanently shield 41,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development. CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Division of Land Resource Protection for information on the program and potential funding. The state also offers programs -- the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones -- that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years. For more information, visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.
About the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) -- The FRPP is a voluntary easement program that protects productive agricultural land by purchasing conservation easements to limit conversion of farm and ranch lands to non-agricultural uses. NRCS partners with state, tribal or local governments, and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners. Additional information is available at www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/frpp.html.