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Conservation Corner: Happy young farmers – all is well in the world

We get lots of information these days about all the great things that large organizations and institutions do over the course of a year, but rarely do we hear about the great things made possible when whole group of small organizations work together.

Maybe that’s because larger institutions want all the credit, because they did all the work. Maybe it’s because groups that work together for a common outcome thank each other, then move on to another task possibly with other partners.

Communities such as ours often accomplish a whole lot for the common good, with many organizations working together with no goal of recognition by the public. This is a story about just that sort of accomplishment, made possible by several organizations working together, all of them working with no self-interest in mind.

In 2016, a man named Russell Ault died unexpectedly at the age of 61, in Hendersonville. He left a 72-acre parcel of land in Madison County, North Carolina, to his partner, Carol Piem.

The property is remote, but beautiful. It was a thriving tobacco farm up until the 1980s, farmed with horses, with two hand hewn tobacco barns, a small dilapidated house, sheds, creeks and a spring behind the house, terrible vehicular access, all surrounded by steep wooded slopes.

It’s a perfect example of a small working mountain subsistence farm of the mid 20th century. It is also exactly what a young couple with limited resources would want to create a life of farming, raising a family in the country, working the land.

Unfortunately, young farmers don’t have much money, and banks will not loan on property with poor access, a dilapidated house, with no working electricity or heat.

But Carol wanted to honor Russell’s dream of saving this old farm from the loggers, so she donated the land to Saluda Community Land Trust, a small, all-volunteer organization willing to accept the property without an environmental assessment.

Saluda is a long way from Madison County, so SCLT contacted WNCFarmlink to see if they would put the property on their website in order to find a young farmer looking for land. After taking pictures and coming up with a sales price ($80,000 owner financed over 10 years, no interest), WNCFarmlink put the property on their webpage and SCLT began to get calls.

After showing the land to several serious potential buyers, SCLT received two offers for the asking price, and one was chosen. A very hard working young couple has purchased the land, with plans to clear the pastures, make the house livable (meanwhile living in a travel trailer after fixing the driveway enough to get the trailer on site), pasture goats, plant grapes and vegetables, and be part of a grape growing/wine producing co-op in Asheville.

This is where they will live, start a family and bring the little mountain farm back to the beautiful, productive place it was in the 1980s.

How did this all take place?

SCLT was willing and able to accept the property, and to put a lot of time and effort into marketing the property to the people who matched the land.

Carol Piem was willing to give it away.

WNCFarmlink was willing to market it, at no cost.

The young couple is willing to do years of hard work to make their dream come true.

The Polk County Community Foundation is willing to hold the purchase money in an endowment for SCLT, to be used for long term maintenance of trails and land owned or leased by SCLT around Saluda.

Each institution in this picture contributed what they do best for the benefit of all: Carol Piem was true to Russell and donated the land with hopes that it would be preserved; SCLT realized that the land should be loved and cared for by a young couple looking for a good life; WNCFarmlink matched the young farmer with the farm; and the Polk County Community Foundation agreed to help SCLT with the money part.

Then, the next door neighbor agreed to give the new owners a deeded right of way, and his son- in-law is helping to build a new driveway; the Polk Co. Soil and Water Conservation District administrator helped with the closing, notarized the warranty deed and introduced the young couple to the Madison County Soil and Water folks.

In conclusion: if we all work together, we all win. It’s that simple!

No need to advertise that.

Betsy Burdett is a member and former president of the Saluda Community Land Trust.