Voluntary Ag District Advances
Within minutes after an application system was approved, the Moore County Voluntary Agri-cultural District (VAD) program had its first applicant.
Brad Mallow, a Carthage businessman and farmer, had already filled out the application form and handed it in as soon as the VAD advisory board vot-ed unanimously to adopt the ap-plication form.
"Farmland is shrinking every year, because of development, economics and other issues," Mallow said after the April 4 board meeting in the Moore County Agriculture Center. "This is a way to protect farmland and to protect farmers from misunderstandings by their neighbors."
Johnny Thompson, a Robbins farmer, picked up a handful of application forms, for himself and to distribute to several neighbors in his community. Thompson may well become the second VAD applicant in the county.
"I like for my neighbors to know that this is a farming area, and there might be some odors." Thomas said. "It protects them, and it protects me because they will know upfront that this is a farm district."
Mallow and his wife, Kathy Mallow, operate a working cattle farm on a 43-acre tract that borders the Cabin Branch development near Carthage. They also have horses on their farm, but Mallow says the horses are for family pleasure, not commercial operations.
Thompson said his farm is primarily a cattle operation, which, in itself, is not normally a smelly operation. However, he does apply chicken litter on fields occasionally, and that can cause an odor.
Alice Caviness, education coordinator for the Moore Soil and Water Conservation District, said she has a waiting list of interested farmers who are likely to apply for VAD status now that the application process has been adopted.
Several VAD board members said they too have received inquiries from farmers expressing interest in creating districts for their property.
Board members were clearly impressed with a VAD map of Alamance County presented during their Wednesday afternoon meeting.
The map was part of a presentation on the Alamance County VAD program given by Phil Ross, district administrator for Alamance Soil and Water Conservation District. The map showed numerous circles, often overlapping, to mark agriculture districts, many of which covered vast expanses of rural Alamance County.
"It makes you feel good to drive through a community and see a sign on all the mailboxes down the road," Ross said. "You realize you're in a farming community."
The Alamance VAD has been so successful that one whole township now claims 100 percent participation. A sign has been posted at the Morton Township boundary advising visitors of that achievement.
Alamance County presently has 199 tracts covering more than 11,000 acres enrolled in its VAD. That enrollment has occurred since the VAD program was initiated in 2001.
Ross said Alamance farmers realized their land was sandwiched within a rapidly growing metropolitan area that was increasingly reaching out for land to develop. On one side is Greensboro, the hub of the Triad, and on the other side is the Triangle with Durham and Chapel Hill nearby. Caswell County, north of Alamance, is the only rural neighbor.
"They were feeling a lot of pressure from growth in those areas," Ross said of the situation in the Triad and the Triangle.
Guilford and Durham counties have VADs, and Alamance leaders used their ordinances to develop a program especially for their needs.
"You can talk to someone in Burlington, and they may not even realize there is any agricultural land in the area," Ross said of the largest municipality in Alamance County.
Ross said they made the application process as simple as possible. The application is one page long and calls for minimum information.
To qualify for a VAD, a farmer must operate a minimum acreage, based on the type of farm, must participate in the present use value tax program and must participate in a plan filed either with the Natural Resources Conservation Service or the N.C. Forest Service.
No fee is charged in Alamance County, where the local Farm Bureau provided a substantial grant to cover the cost of providing license plate-size signs to be attached to mailboxes to notify motorists that they are traveling through a Voluntary Agriculture District. Larger signs are also available.
Ross distributed copies of materials used in Alamance County and remained to answer questions from the board.
In the six years since the program was initiated, only one farm has withdrawn from the Alamance program. Ross said the farmer withdrew in order to accept an attractive offer from a developer.
Ross said the Alamance VAD ordinance has had a significant impact on the preservation of historic farms. Some VAD members are third and fourth generation farmers whose families have owned the land 100 or 200 years.
Ross said the Alamance program has created little controversy and that the district has worked cooperatively with municipalities on such issues as water and sewer extensions and extraterritorial jurisdiction.
"It's been a very positive program in our county," Ross said.
Unlike Moore County, Alamance has no countywide zoning ordinance, something that limits the notification process there. For this reason, in some areas a property owner is not required to secure a zoning permit before proceeding with development plans. This means that the notification process for neighboring property owners is not available.
Ross said that so far the availability of the VAD map and the presence of VAD signs on mailboxes have served as effective notification to prospective buyers.
'Right to Farm'
VAD membership is something of a "right to farm" certification, because it provides protection from nuisance suits from neighbors and pressure from overly-eager developers.
It advises developers and prospective home owners that this is an agricultural area and they can expect odors, noises and other phenomena normally experienced on and near farms.
Although farms are almost always already present when a development moves into the neighborhood, this has not prevented newcomers from filing suits against farmers.
Ross said that the family buying property in a farming area might as well be prepared for some experiences they don't like. He cited a couple of examples: the family that finds flies collecting around their swimming pool; and the couple that comes home one day to find that the beautiful forest down the hill has been clear-cut for timber.
Mallow and Thompson agree that these are issues that may cause problems in their communities but they don't want trouble with their neighbors, present or future.
"We want them to understand that the things we do are not environmentally unfriendly, that we're doing normal agricultural practices," Mallow said after the meeting. "If they like hamburger, they must realize what it takes to raise cattle."
Those practices may include odors from fertilizer or pesticide spraying, noise from heavy machinery and traffic slowdowns because of slow-moving farm equipment or removal of an attractive stand of trees.
"It's to allow the neighbors to realize there is a working farm and agricultural practices in the area," Mallow said. "It's to protect us and allow us to farm without having to worry about the neighbors," Mallow said.
Interested farmers can apply for VAD status by visiting the Soil and Water Conservation District office in the Agriculture Center on Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage.
There is an application fee of $25 to cover the cost of the VAD farm sign, since the county has no source of funding for this expense. These are larger notification signs that must be erected with the use of standard hardware. The Moore program as yet has no provision for the smaller signs for mailbox attachment.
In addition to participation in the present use value tax program and possession of a conservation plan certified by NRCS or the Forest Service, the farm must contain a minimum of five acres for horticulture purposes, 10 acres for general agricultural use and 20 acres for forestry.
Information needed for the application includes name, address, location, acreage, standard tax map data, and related materials.
Once this information is supplied, the Conservation District office will take care of submissions to other pertinent agencies, such as the Tax Office and the Department of Planning and Community Development. Each applicant must be approved by the VAD board, which is made up of representatives from various agricultural interests.
As the name implies, participation is voluntary and a participant may withdraw from the VAD program at any time simply by making these wishes known to the advisory board.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail email@example.com.
More like this story