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New program adds 57 acres to Sester Farms, prevents loss of natural space to development

COURTESY PHOTO: EAST MULTNOMAH SOIL AND WATER - This 57-acre parcel of land near Oxbow Park was bought and protected from development. It is now a part of Sester Farms. A new deal has ensured 57 acres of working farmland near Gresham will remain dedicated to producing agricultural products during a time in which the region is losing countless acres.

East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and Sester Farms closed the deal in April 2019 for the commercial nursery to take over the parcel of land and add it to its existing farm, which was first planted in 1898.

"Every time farmland is lost to other uses, we lose open space, local jobs, wildlife habitat, local food stability, and much more," said Allison Hensey, board chair for East Multnomah Soil and Water. "In the Portland Metro area, the recent rate of farmland lost is alarming."

Estimates show that from 2012 to 2017, Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties saw farmland taken out of production at a rate of one acre every hour, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Those properties are often converted to residential use.

One strategy being used to stem the loss of farmland is called "Buy-Protect-Sell." If farmland property is considered to be at risk for uses other than farming or agriculture, it can be purchased to remove the immediate threat. That property is then permanently protected via a working farmland easement — a legal instrument that ensures it can only be utilized as a farm. That property is then sold to a farmer.

That is what happened to the parcel of land in Gresham, near Oxbow Regional Park. East Multnomah Soil and Water stepped in to buy the 57 acres before it could be developed. They then found Sester Farms as a buyer, ensuring it will stay dedicated to growing plants.

"(East Multnomah Soil and Water) worked creatively and responsively with us to create access to an important farm property and to ensure its future as a 'forever-farm,'" said buyers Ted and Karen Sester, who are co-operators of Sester Farms.

The easement is also expected to keep farmland affordable. In Multnomah County, USDA data shows a 75% increase in the value of farmland and buildings from 2012-2107 — the second highest average values of any county in Oregon. The easement has provisions to ensure the property will remain affordable for future farmers.

"We want farmers to know there are people and tools available to help protect working farms forever — and they are flexible, voluntary tools that allow farmers and businesses to operate profitably, but with the surety that their land won't be converted to a non-farm use," Hensey said. "We can help farmers do that."

The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District's mission is to help people care for land and water. Its focus is to keep water clean, conserve water and keep soil healthy. Learn more at www.emswcd.org/


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