Jan. 16, 2011

Caldwell County, NC - Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is pleased to announce grant awards supporting its most recent farmland preservation project. Tony and Tim Jones' 135-acre farm along scenic NC Highway 268 in Caldwell County will be protected from subdivision and future development by an agricultural easement held by the conservancy.

"I didn't want to see the land sub-divided into riverfront mini-farms that developers like to get a hold of," co-landowner Tony Jones said. "Keeping it in one piece is the only way to preserve its character."

By combining state and federal preservation funds, the prime and productive farmland of Tony and Tim Jones will be forever preserved as a farming community asset in Happy Valley. To fund the project, Foothills Conservancy received grants in July 2010 of $170,000 from the N.C. Agricultural Development & Preservation Trust Fund (ADFP) and $176,000 from the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

"Thanks to the North Carolina General Assembly's support of the ADFP trust fund, we are beginning to realize our goal to preserve this historically significant farm," said Tom Kenney, Foothills Conservancy's land protection director. "The Jones Farm easement project will hopefully serve as a catalyst for more farmland preservation along Happy Valley and the Yadkin River.

"Farms such as the Joneses' have been disappearing far too rapidly in North Carolina," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. "Fortunately, the Foothills Conservancy and other conservation groups are working hard to slow the loss of productive farmland, and I'm pleased that the ADFP trust fund can assist their efforts." Tracing over one and a half miles of the Yadkin River, the Jones farm is the conservancy's first project along Caldwell County's portion of the "Upper Yadkin Way" and results from the scenic byway plan prepared by Andrew Kota, the conservancy's protection & stewardship associate.

The cultural significance of the land was also a motivation in protecting the Jones Farm. The gravesite of Laura Foster, whose death at the hand of Tom Dula (Dooley) is a folktale popularized in ballads and poems, is located there. The farm also includes part of the Old Yadkin River-Wilkesboro Road, which is thought to be the route traveled by the Overmountain Victory Men in 1780.  More than one and a half miles of the National Park Service's Overmountain Victory Trail corridor crosses the farm today.

Each year, the Jones host the Happy Valley Fiddler's Convention, an event that draws hundreds. He also opens his farm for events like Plow Day and Mow Day, highlighting the roots of farm production before petroleum came along. Along those lines, Jones would like to develop additional opportunities for the community, celebrating the rich, rural heritage of Happy Valley on the farm. He imagines something resembling a farm-park on the property, with periodic camping during agritourism events.

"The fiddler's convention started here because of the historical significance behind the farm and the popularity of the Laura Foster story in folk music circles," Jones said. "We're following that model to develop new opportunities to create economic benefit through agritourism. In today's market we have to be more creative."

A regional land trust, Foothills Conservancy is dedicated to working cooperatively with landowners and public and private conservation partners to preserve and protect important natural areas and open spaces of the Blue Ridge Foothills region, including watersheds, environmentally significant habitats, forests and farmland, for this and future generations. The Conservancy, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, serves eight counties: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, McDowell and Rutherford. Foothills Conservancy continues to pursue and add agricultural easement properties to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of North Carolina farms.