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Posted April 24, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Hawkins family seeks to protect farm

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - George Hawkins IV smiles as he pulled dandelions and toddled around the family farm on Tuesday afternoon.

The child's father, Wade Hawkins, says he hopes to see Pleasantdale Farm protected from development for his son and future generations of farmers.

Shenandoah County and the Board of Supervisors may take steps to make sure the Hawkins family farm remains a part of the agricultural landscape. But the board must decide whether to use county money already set aside for such a purpose.

Members of the Board of Supervisors, the Conservation Easement Authority and other officials took a tour of the family farm Tuesday with Wade and Jessi Hawkins - and their son George. Grazing cattle watched as the group riding in vehicles traveled around the farm.

Pleasantdale Farm stretches for more than 300 acres northwest of Woodstock near Patmos, Fravel and Back roads.

Wade Hawkins described the farm as a start-to-finish operation. Calves are raised to market size. The farm has approximately 150 brood cows and at any given time the operation has more than 400 head of cattle from babies to finishing. The farm also produces approximately 90 percent of the feed given to the livestock, Hawkins said. Calves are raised "naturally" and the operation has certificatin from the Global Animal Partnership.

"They make sure ... the animals are healthy and treated right," Hawkins said. "So we've got that market and we're proud of it. Not too many people can do that [at] the size we are."

The group made a few stops during the tour and Hawkins pointed out some of the agricultural features in part of the farm property. He noted at one spot that residents of the nearby Fairview subdivision can see the farm.

Hawkins pointed to an area where a spring provides some water for the farm. However, the spring nearly dried up when the subdivision began to tap into the water supply for wells. The spring has only recently started to produce water, Hawkins said.

The family recently completed the construction of a large, covered area for the cattle. The farm operation started the project four years ago to address regulations imposed to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Hawkins explained that 150 head of cattle kept on the 3-acre space posed a problem with mud, manure and runoff.

"We recognized the problem and we wanted to correct it," Hawkins said. "Like they said, we couldn't believe how much manure was actually going into that lot and now we can see how much is going into that lot.

"We fixed our problem before there was a problem," Hawkins added. "Through time, it would have been a problem."

Supervisors recently heard the proposal that would put two tracts of the property totaling more than 315 acres into permanent protective easement. The Conservation Easement Authority has been discussing the proposal that would require the county board to spend local money to protect the land. Supervisors would need to authorize spending $100,000 set aside for conservation easements. County Planner Patrick Felling presented information to the board earlier this month and explained local money is required to leverage state and federal funding for the easement process.

Such an easement, if approved, would be the first in the county in which the supervisors used local money to make it happen.

The proposal calls for the creation of north and south tracts of 127 acres and 188 acres, respectively.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation would serve as co-holder of the easement, according to Felling. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service would act as a third-party enforcer of the easement, under the proposal. However, the county also could serve as a co-holder on the easement if it participates, according to Felling.

The total "donative" value of the land is estimated at $1.1 million, according to Felling, who noted the property has not been appraised. The family would donate a combined value of $350,844 toward the easement, or almost 32 percent, Felling said. The funding formula calls for a match of $100,000 from the state and $550,844 through the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.

In the presentation, Felling told the board that more than 90 percent of the farm soils are prime or have statewide importance. The property fronts approximately 1½ miles of roads and is visible from Back Road. Felling noted the property lies within the battlefield study area.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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