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Fall 2006 Landmarks“The Time to Do Something is Now, Not Later”

Miles Reiter on saving farmland in the Pajaro Valley

This article originally appeared in our newsletter, Landmarks, Winter 2007

This winter Miles and Garland Reiter agreed to put an easement on 103 acres of land they own jointly with the Borina Foundation (details on that story are in our Fall 2006 issue).

Why did you decide to put an easement on some of your farmland?

reiterI’ve seen in my lifetime the loss of farmland, especially cool coastal climate farmland. I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley and that’s gone. They don’t even call it the Santa Clara Valley anymore. It’s Silicon Valley. Orange County is now gone. The Oxnard plains and Santa Maria Valley are developing rapidly.
These California coastal valleys are very desirable as farmland and they have been lost or are going fast. The Pajaro Valley and Salinas Valley are what’s left. And because the Pajaro Valley is small and still pretty much intact, it is savable.

Mary Ann Radovich and June Schnake (the Borina sisters) understood and cared for their farmland. I really admire what the Borina Foundation did in protecting that land. I wanted to support Bill Locke-Paddon’s vision of keeping agriculture as a vital part of Pajaro Valley.

The other reason I got involved is that I wanted to get some experience with the process and the issues involved for future possibilities for other lands we own.

Some people say that the Pajaro Valley isn’t threatened – that we’ve got various protections in place, that there are no pressing threats.

What I’ve seen in other places is that it is pretty hard to resist developing once the pressure gets strong. There’s a change in the way people think. The farmers start thinking about selling and moving somewhere else to farm. You need to act before it is threatened. Once the threat is at the door, it’s too late. For the Pajaro Valley the time to do something is now, not later. Later is too late.

What would you say to other farmers who ask you about putting conservation easements on their land?

The evidence is that the coast is unlikely to stay in farming unless private people take deliberate actions. Farmers have to take this seriously. A lot of people are thinking about it, but not doing it right now.

I’d encourage anyone to look into donating easements. It’s going to take individuals committed to farming in the valley to do something. Don’t expect the planning commission to withstand development pressures. It’s going to take private action to keep the valley in farming.

I’d also say that I know it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a big deal to sign some forever document. It’s not just about financial rewards; it’s also about the future, about how you can use your land.

I think the key right now is to cross the threshold so that people can see it is achievable. A few people taking action can get us across that threshold. •

Miles is a third generation berry grower and the President and CEO of Driscoll Berries.

 

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