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Easement helps ensure future of Ohioan's farmland

June 20, 2013 | 0 comments

The Branstrator family farm should forever remain green.

Jon Branstrator expects to ensure that the land, bought in 1821 by his great-great-great-great grandfather, will stay in use for agriculture by selling an agricultural easement to most of it through state and federal farmland preservation programs.

"It's a personal decision. I do get some currency. I do get some tax bonuses," said Branstrator who returned to the family farm 17 years ago. "Most of all, I get to know it is going to stay in farming. It's in my DNA."

Andrew Branstrator is buried in a family graveyard on the land, part of 400 acres he purchased from Stephen Mason. That land was part of 1,000 acres Mason was allotted after the American Revolution.

More than 190 years later, the area remains predominantly rural, but "for sale" signs posted by regional real estate companies hint at a more residential future. Clinton-Massie High School and a library are about a mile away.

"After my days are done, nobody can come in here, cut it up and plant houses on it," Branstrator said recently, while walking through fields along the Warren-Clinton county line.

On May 16, Warren County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting his application for an easement on 53.9 acres of the 167-acre farm in the county through the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Local Agricultural Easement Purchase program.

While supporting farmland preservation, officials in fast-growing Warren County also are developing and approving plans for more of the planned-use residential communities already dotting the county.

Warren County was not among 16 Ohio counties from which requests for funding through the farmland preservation program were made in 2013.

Branstrator's easement is to be purchased by Clinton County Open Lands, one of 18 sponsors seeking $2.7 million in state funding in 2013.

"Warren County doesn't have a land trust. There's never been anyone pushing the program," said Jeff Thomas, district administrator for the Warren County Soil & Water District.

Interest in farm preservation in Warren County has come from farmers with land along the Clinton County line, allowing Thomas to assist through groups like Clinton County Open Lands.

"We'd like to go that way in a few years," Thomas said.

The program is funded from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, approved by voters in 2008. About 370,000 acres in Ohio farmland already has been preserved through the program.

Those applying this year also can receive funding through the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection program. Branstrator hopes to be paid more than $412,000 by the trust: $103,301 in state funds, $309,902 from the federal government.

No state funding was provided for the program last year through Gov. John Kasich's first biennial budget.

Branstrator is in line for funding this year. Neighbor Phil George hopes to qualify next year.

In 1995, after his father died, Branstrator returned home from stints breeding crops in Costa Rica, attending college in Arizona and building ropes courses in Ohio. The old-fashioned single crop farm - where corn was the only crop raised year after year - was turned into a mixed fruit and vegetable farm.

Crops of asparagus, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, peaches and tomatoes are rotated in the fields. Branstrator sells to wholesale customers including Dorothy Lane Market, as well as pick-your-own groups and individuals who track what's for sale via Facebook and pay at a self-serve station in front of the house.

Graduate students join him in fields planted with varieties new to Ohio. The farm employs three to nine workers.

No easement will exist on the land beneath the house and adjoining three acres.

"The rest of the land will be set aside for agricultural forever," Branstrator said.

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