July 29, 2014

Elyria
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Tilled till the end of time?

In Rochester and Huntington townships, a 176-year-old farm will stay that way  thanks to a state easement

More than 1,000 picturesque acres of farmland in the southwestern corner of the county will remain that way in the future as a result of a deal with the state.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
Jarvis Babcock in front of his family farm.

Jarvis Babcock, whose family has owned the farm for 176 years, pushed for the state to buy an easement on his property as a way of protecting the rural way of life.

The purchase marked the first time the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program was used to protect a Lorain County farm.

The farm, located in Rochester and Huntington townships, is the second largest farm ever to be protected through the program.
The farm dates to 1831 when the Babcock and Meach families became some of the first to settle in Rochester Township.

“It’s been a great relief to know what the future of this place will be,” Babcock said. “As our mother Esther would say, ‘It isn’t what you are given but what you do with it that is important.’

“Given the travails experienced by our father, Eugene Babcock, and his father before him in acquiring, enlarging and maintaining the farm, it is a fitting tribute to them that it remains a farm far into the indefinite future.”

Babcock is the fifth generation of his family to farm the property and his son, Stephen Babcock, who manages the farm, now is the sixth. With the exception of 69 acres solely owned by Babcock, the 949-acre farm is owned by Babcock and his sisters, Alice Bradley and Catherine Leary.

The easement purchase program grant — worth just a little more than $100,000 — allows the state to purchase an agricultural easement on the 949 acres the siblings own together. That easement gives the state control of how the land is used.

Annual inspections will be conducted by the Western Reserve Land Conversancy to ensure the easement is being abided by; those who don’t follow it face legal actions and the penalties of civil court.

While the land value is worth more than what the easement guarantees, the Babcock family will not lose money on the deal. The remaining value of the $2 million farm can be deducted as a charitable donation, officials said

“The preservation of the Babcock Farm is a significant milestone for farmland preservation in Ohio and exemplifies the goals of the easement purchase program as we work to preserve Ohio’s most productive farmland for future generations,” said Robert Boggs, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

For the 69-acre parcel, Babcock donated a conservation easement to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The WRLC sponsored the Babcock’s state easement application with support from the Lorain County commissioners and the Rochester and Huntington township trustees.

Standing on the porch of Jarvis and Joan Babcock’s old family farmhouse, one can understand why the family fought to protect the farm.A backyard pond is scattered with green lily pads and pink lotus flowers. The country air smells fresh. And fields of corn and soybean crops can be seen for acres until they give way to roughly 400 acres of untouched woods.

It is the place where Babcock said he was first given an extensive education in tree identification while tapping maples for their sweet syrup and where he learned to drive at the age of 12 on the back of a John Deere tractor.

Such a move hopefully will make it easier for other conservation easements in the future, said Andy McDowell, field director of the Western Reserve Land Conversancy.

“We see this as an anchor in the landscape for us to work on other projects in the area,” McDowell said. “This grant is a major step forward for conservation because it removes the ability to develop the farm for anything other than agricultural purposes.”

About 600 acres of the farm are actively cultivated with soybeans, corn, mixed hay and, occasionally, wheat and oats. Pasture is maintained for a small herd of beef cattle while some pasture is leased to a nearby Jersey and Guernsey dairy farm.

The remainder of the farm is forested and contains rich, biologically diverse woodlands, numerous wetlands and three tributaries to the Black River.The Babcock family will retain their rights of ownership, but should any portion of the property be sold, the easement remains in effect on the land, McDowell said.

‘The land can be leased to another farmer, and the person who lives there doesn’t necessary have to farm it, but whoever receives the land in the future will know it has to stay a working farm forever,” he said.

The easement protects not only the way of life, but the farm’s colorful history, which includes it being the site where six would-be thieves met their deaths while attempting to steal the rumored fortune kept hidden on the farm by the Meach brothers in 1902.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.