Conservation easements/ purchase of development rights are the primary tool for land protection for two programs, the Forsyth County Farmland Preservation Program and Piedmont Land Conservancy. Forsyth County was a pioneer in farmland protection in the 1980s. The Forsyth County Farmland Preservation Program created in 1984 is a voluntary program in which Forsyth County purchases the development rights from farmland owners. This prohibits the future development of their land for nonfarm purposes, such as subdivisions and shopping centers. The intent of the program is to provide economic incentive to farmland owners to keep their land in agriculture or open space uses in perpetuity. The first development rights were purchased in 1987. The program helps to curb the rapid loss of good farmland to urban development, control sprawl development, preserve open space, reduce public infrastructure costs and maintain a vital link to our community’s past. The landowner is compensated for the sale of the development rights and retains title and all other rights to his or her land. Farming activities continue. The development rights are held in trust, assuring that areas with good soils and active farms will remain in agricultural uses which are an important part of Forsyth County’s open space.
There are currently 1,605 acres of protected farmland on 29 farms in Forsyth County. The main obstacle to bringing more land into the program has been lack of funding. Currently, there is a priority list of 30 farms with owners willing to sell the development rights of 1,346 additional acres of farmland if funding becomes available. Recently, regulations that allow alternative agricultural businesses have been approved. These could include wineries, horse boarding and bed and breakfasts.