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Conservation ‘covey’ protects prime Loudoun County farmland

loudoun county farm
A conservation easement now protects historic Hidden Covey Farm for future generations of the Abraham and Wisch families. Photo courtesy Northern Conservation Trust.

Hidden Covey Farm might seem like a typical agricultural operation in western Loudoun County, but digging a little deeper reveals that the true value of the land lies below the surface.

A committed group of partners is helping to ensure the fertile soils will be protected for years to come.

Four generations of the Abraham and Wisch families live, work and play on the 75-acre property, which has a long history in agriculture. The original log house was built in the 1700s and the main barn predates the Civil War. The tract includes more than 50 acres of prime farmland,* a quarter mile of valuable stream and riparian corridors and grasslands with the potential to provide habitat for a rare butterfly.

The family has now partnered with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) offsite link image     to place the tract in a permanent easement through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP. NRCS and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) offsite link image     provided funding with a contribution from the landowner to preserve the farm’s function, appearance and contribution to the nation’s food supply in perpetuity.

“I grew up in western Loudoun County, not far from Lovettsville,” said Claire Abraham, the farm’s owner. “My family has farmed in Loudoun in some capacity for 200 years. The decision to put Hidden Covey Farm in an easement is an investment in my children and grandchildren.”

Loudoun County joined NVCT as a co-holder of the easement, and the county and NVCT will continue to partner with the family in the ongoing stewardship of the farm. The nearly four-year collaboration to finalize the application required some flexibility and a great deal of cooperation between the landowner and funders.

“The Board of Supervisors is pleased that the conservation agreement with NVCT and Hidden Covey Farm has been successfully finalized,” said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall. “Our board is committed to protecting Loudoun’s rural lands and we are excited that this easement was achieved through collaborative efforts and partnerships of various organizations.”

“This conservation easement is a great success in preserving valuable farmland in Western Loudoun,” added Catoctin District Supervisor Caleb A. Kershener. “The Catoctin office has been supportive of this initiative from the beginning and we’re happy that this has now been finalized.”

The family’s conservation ethic is apparent on the landscape. Land once used to produce corn and other row crops has now been transformed into a sustainably managed pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry operation. The family has implemented conservation practices like livestock exclusion fencing, riparian buffers and new watering stations for cattle to protect soil health and water quality as well as renovating existing buildings with agritourism in mind.

“We are so grateful to the Abraham and Wisch families for showing the foresight and perseverance to forever protect their property as a working farm,” said Matt Gerhart, the NVCT’s director of conservation. “We are very excited to see their farm and their family grow.”

NRCS is seeing a growing demand for Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) with more potential partners expressing interest and submitting applications, but this funding is still underutilized in Virginia. NRCS Easement Program Manager Diane Dunaway says the acquisition process does take some time but has been streamlined and simplified over the last
few years.

“Virginia NRCS enrolled 1,094 new acres through ALE in Fiscal Year 2020, and we have the desire and capacity to protect many more,” said Virginia State Conservationist Edwin Martinez Martinez. “These conservation easements help to preserve agricultural land indefinitely, unlike other programs and practices which have start and end dates. An ALE stays with the land, allowing only specific agricultural uses.”

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