Land Summit: Gaston Cooperative Extension Wraps Up 3 Part Series

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Gaston County Cooperative Extension wrapped up its three part Your Land Your Legacy workshop series on Friday, April 22. The series was modeled on and utilized the “land summit” materials and guide developed with support from several funding sources including Cooperative Extension’s Local Foods Program Team and the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. The program development has been led by Becky Bowen and Andrew Branan, in collaboration with several counties who have hosted ‘train the trainer’ modules as well as landowner-facing programs. (Series materials were developed and delivered via Zoom during the depths of the pandemic.)

The Your Land Your Legacy series  – organized under the leadership of Lara Worden of Gaston County Cooperative Extension  – was held over a span of several months in Cleveland (Feb 18), Lincoln (March 28) and Gaston (April 22) Counties as a collaboration between N.C. Cooperative Extension and several other agencies and organizations throughout the region. Presentations were delivered primarily by local public administrators and private professionals with intimate knowledge of their subject areas. N.C. Cooperative Extension specialists and program administrators also participated to discuss their program and research areas. Topics included property taxes, forest management plans, estate planning, hunting leases and farm tenancy, trespassing and boundary protection, eminent domain, soil & water cost-share programs and stream mitigation, and conservation easements.

The Cooperative Extension Land Summit program  model – inspired by Wake County’s long-running Keep the Farm landowner-facing program – seeks to engage owners and operators around the basic elements of land use regulation and property disposition planning, geared where possible to helping owners of farm and forest land continue their holdings in such uses, whether operating themselves or making land available to others. Such programming is delivered either in a one-day format or series. For example, Moore County Cooperative Extension Director Deborah McGiffin organized a one-day event held March 17. Likewise, another three-part land summit series is underway currently in Franklin County, with upcoming installments on May 6 and June 3.

As noted, the program utilizes participation by program administrators who can best explain how land use regulations and programs are applied in their county. The format also provides an excellent opportunity for N.C. Cooperative Extension to inform farm and forest landowners about useful programs, and to disseminate research-based information in support of the land grant mission. For example, the Gaston program provided the NC Farmlink team a forum to reach landowners. Likewise, it provided my the opportunity to discuss my research on verbal farm tenancies and leasing.

The “land summit” theory is relatively simple: land use topics are of concern to all owners of farm and forest land, and the topics attract these audiences to expose them to information and programs that may meet their various needs. If a portion of such audiences can get information they need, it is more likely they will make decisions to keep land in production. While the program cost is low, the land summit will seek to measure its true impact in years to come. The land summit program is supported by the handbook So You Inherited a Farm, written and printed with support from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund and distributed to the 2022 land summit programs.

Planning for future “land summit” programs is underway in other counties, some who put programs on hold due to the pandemic.