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Washtenaw United: Legacy Land Conservancy works to create greater agricultural equity

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Krista Jacob
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Krista Jacob

ABOUT KRISTA JACOB:

Krista Jacob is the development associate at Legacy Land Conservancy and a 15-year resident of Ypsilanti. With a degree in journalism from Eastern Michigan University and more than 10 years of experience in communications and storytelling, she has a deep passion for building community through shared experiences.

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the first edition of Washtenaw United for 2023. And Happy New Year to you! I'm David Fair, and on Washtenaw United each week, we explore issues of equity and opportunity in Washtenaw County. And today, it's about land preservation and what it affords all of us in creating a greater quality of life in our community. Our guest has her fingers and spirit at the heart of it. Krista Jacob is a development associate with the Legacy Land Conservancy. A Happy New Year to you, Krista! Thank you so much for the time.

Krista Jacob: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

David Fair: I want to ask a personal question. You graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in journalism. So, how is it you're not working with me and are working with the Legacy Land Conservancy?

Krista Jacob: That's a great question. After school, I worked for Heritage Media, so I did a ton of community journalism in the area. And I just really loved building relationships, and it grew into working in nonprofits. I worked for the Ypsilanti Freighthouse for a few years. And then, during the pandemic, I found a home here at Legacy. It ended up being a little bit perfect. I've always been really interested in the environment and sustainability, so it's a great place for me to build relationships and listen to other people's stories and help build community.

David Fair: So, with a passion for building relationships and community through shared experience, I'm told you are also an experienced storyteller. So, tell me a little story of how you see the role of the Legacy Land Conservancy in Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan.

Krista Jacob: Yeah. So, Legacy has been here since 1971. We work to protect and preserve forests, prairies, farms, wetlands, and waters. And we're the area's only accredited land trust. So. We partner with individuals, landowners, and other environmental nonprofits, as well as government entities to help protect land forever. We use private conservation easements and publicly accessible nature preserves, and we focus our work here in Washtenaw, as well as Jackson and Lenawee County.

David Fair: Over 50 years of work now, how has Legacy Land Conservancy grown in five-plus decades?

Krista Jacob: We've grown a lot. So, we started out as a group of concerned citizens who are interested in saving the land that is now Bird Hills. And saving that from development, it is a critical piece of land right along the Huron River. A group of environmentally-minded people in the seventies got together, fundraised, and purchased the land, and then donated it to the City of Ann Arbor to create a park. Since then, we've expanded on that model, but keeping those feelings for ourselves and operating preserves. We have seven publicly accessible preserves. And then we do conservation easements, which are a voluntary permanent contract that helps protect entire resources while keeping land in private hands. Landowners continue to use and sell or pass on their properties, but with added restrictions to protect conservation values, like our agricultural soils, wildlife habitat, and carbon rich forests. So, it's our responsibility as an accredited land trust to help uphold those conservation values forever. And now, we have 92 easements under our belt and have protected almost 10,000 acres of land.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation with Krista Jacob from Legacy Land Conservancy continues on 89 one WEMU. You've just described the value to the environment--to land preservation. There's a number of environmental benefits. What are the real and potential economic benefits?

Krista Jacob: Yeah, the economic benefits are great. By protecting land, and specifically by protecting farmland, we're helping bolster the local food system, creating more jobs, and creating more local dollars that stay here in our community.

David Fair: And how does that apply to helping build equity through our community? I mean, inequity is being addressed on a number of different levels, whether it's educational, employment, opportunity or lack thereof, lack of access to health care, or racial and social justice. You mentioned that you have publicly accessible lands. Beyond that, what kind of access does the work of the Conservancy provide?

Krista Jacob: Yeah. So, actually something that we're working on with the United Way of Washtenaw County, we were lucky enough to receive some funding this year from their Opportunity Fund, and we're exploring what's called a Buy Protect Sell model for climate resilient conservation. The model is designed to conserve vulnerable and priority agricultural conservation land by purchasing the fee title with the intent to resell that property restricted by a conservation easement. So, we would purchase farmland, potentially divide it into smaller parcels depending on the size of it, and then resell it at a reduced value after the conservation easement has been placed to new and beginning farmers and farmers who have experienced marginalization. So, right now, we're exploring the model. We are doing a feasibility study in-house to try to figure out how and where we can fit in and use our half-century of land protection experience and conservation easements to help make acquiring farmland more accessible or equitable and to bolster locally grown food as a way to help build climate resilience here in Washtenaw.

David Fair: And you mentioned that it will be focused on assisting the marginalized. So, are we going to see preference given to those who are of the lower income strata, those who are of communities of color, or are we looking at farmers who perhaps have been left behind?

Krista Jacob: It's a little bit all of the above. The farmers who have left been left behind are often the farmers who have experienced marginalization or come from communities of color. According to a 2017 USDA census, only 1.4% of farmers identify as Black. And, in the last century, Black Americans have lost about 90% of farmland ownership here in America. And in Washtenaw County, it's very reflective of that. According to the National Black Farmers Fund, of the about 2100 farmers in Washtenaw, only 18 of them identify as Black. So, for us, making access to land more equitable is going to make an impact across the board.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United, and we're talking with Legacy Land Conservancy development associate Krista Jacob. You had mentioned this on a couple of occasions. I let it pass, and I probably shouldn't have. But I think one of the often missed components of what you do at the Conservancy is that when you reach these preservation agreements, it is indeed permanent. The land cannot be developed. We sometimes try and apply absolutes where maybe absolutes don't fit. Does permanent truly mean permanent?

Krista Jacob: Permanent does truly mean permanent here. Something that makes Legacy as well as other accredited land trust like us unique is the work that we do really is forever. The conservation easements that we place outlive everyone involved in making that agreement. And they are created to protect that land in perpetuity. When we agree to protect the land, either by owning it on a preserve or by holding a conservation easement, we are making a promise to take care of that land over the long term.

David Fair: And that can't be reversed through court order or through probate, through, you know, when a will gets put into effect. It is indeed without exception.

Krista Jacob: Correct. Yep.

David Fair: So, give me a brief summary of 2022 at the Legacy Land Conservancy and the additions made to the list of protected lands.

Krista Jacob: Yeah. 2022 has been a really phenomenal year for us. The pandemic really slowed down a lot of our work, one, because lots of places were closed in 2020, so we had to take a little bit of a step back. But all of the dam that was put up in 2020 and throughout 2021 really broke this year. We closed four conservation easements in just the last year and hit by the end of this year our 10,000th acre of conserved land, which is a really, really big deal for us. And, coming up in 2023, we're going to hit 100 conservation easements under our belt. So, we're really excited about the pace of conservation in our service area, as well as our ability to kind of enact that.

David Fair: So, you just mentioned that easements--the number of easements--are going to grow in 2023. What is the grander, the more broad aspirations for the new year now that it is upon us?

Krista Jacob: Our broader aspirations are to keep conserving land. We have....I'm trying to think about four conservation easements in 2023 that we're working on closing, as well as a new, publicly accessible preserve in Washtenaw County that we're hoping we will acquire this year and begin work to restore it in order to open it either in 2023 or 2024, the little bit funding dependent.

David Fair: So, taking those things into consideration, you mentioned you just surpassed the 10,000 acre mark, which is truly amazing. How much more acreage will be added through the course of the next 12 months?

Krista Jacob: Some time ago, our organization set ourselves a goal of 25,000 acres. So, we're still really headed toward that. But I really don't see that stopping at 25,000 when we get there. What's important to us is that we continue conserving no matter what that number is--important land here in southern Michigan.

David Fair: I would like to thank you for the time today. Thank you all at the Conservancy for the work you're doing. And, Krista, I wish you a Happy New Year.

Krista Jacob: Thank you so much. And thanks for having me.

David Fair: That is Krista Jacob, development associate with the Legacy Land Conservancy and our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on the Conservancy and its role in our community, just visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

RESOURCES:

Legacy Land Conservancy

UWWC STATEMENT:

Most recently, Legacy Land Conservancy is a recipient of the Opportunity Fund, which is a resource for local organizations and groups whose efforts address poverty, racism and trauma: root causes of systemic oppression that hold opportunity at bay for all people in Washtenaw County.

Legacy Land Conservancy has received a $15,000 reward to pilot a feasibility study of a Buy-Protect-Sell program, designed to conserve vulnerable and/or priority agricultural conservation land by purchasing fee title to the property with the intent to resell the property restricted by a conservation easement to Black and/or women-identifying farmers.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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