By Andrea Morgante

In response to Charley Burbank’s letter regarding a conservation of Hinesburg farmland and its sale to David Zuckerman, I would like to offer some facts relating to this transaction.

In 2007, the Hinesburg Land Trust worked closely with the Vermont Land Trust, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) and the Trust for Public Land to conserve 632 acres of productive agricultural and forest land. To protect Wayne and Barbara Bissonette’s Farm required many public and private partners to secure the funding required to allow the town of Hinesburg to acquire 300 acres as a Town Forest in the headwaters of the LaPlatte River and sell the other 332 acres as conserved land. The sale of the most productive 150 acres of farmland was accomplished through a public, competitive process that brought in proposals from six farmers.

How a conservation transaction works: A professional appraiser identifies the fair market value of the property and the agricultural value of the land. The difference between these is the value of the development rights. Land is conserved when the development rights are sold and there is a contract called the conservation easement that stays with the land in perpetuity.

Even for conservation, this was a particularly complex transaction because it involved a short-term owner of the land, a philanthropic buyer called ESNID. This buyer stepped in to purchase the land from the Bissonette family to ensure that the land came off the market and was conserved and affordable for the next farmer.

While the appraised fair market value of the 155.82 acres was $1,055,000, the agricultural value was $375,000. David Zuckerman and Rachel Nevitt were selected as the farmers with the strongest business plan and best fit for the land and purchased it in 2008 for $375,000. ESNID was paid $500,000 from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for the development rights and absorbed the balance as a charitable contribution. The VHCB and the Vermont Land Trust hold the conservation easement that prevents development of the land.

David Zuckerman and Rachel Nevitt are farming this land and making substantial investments to improve water quality and the health of the soil while growing delicious and nutritious vegetables and meat that are sold to their neighbors, and statewide.

Conserving farmland has been an important part of Vermont’s economic future. Protecting farms allows for the transfer of family farms between generations, new farmers accessing land, and the creation of value-added farm businesses. Conserved farmland benefits the entire state by providing diverse habitats, buffers along rivers and streams to protect water quality, unfragmented forests and recreation from hunting, biking, hiking, skiing to fishing and other water sports. I encourage people to learn about land conservation and ways you can be involved.

Morgante is a member of the Hinesburg Land Trust and worked on this land transaction.