Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina permanently protects Burke County family farm with agricultural

On Oct. 24, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina placed an agricultural conservation easement on 192 acres of the Misty Meadows Farm, a family-owned farm in the Linville Township of Burke County near Lake James.

The conservation easement prohibits subdivision and residential development, ensuring the farm remains intact for agricultural production for future generations in an area of Burke County under increasing development pressure. The project protects 159 acres of productive agricultural soils, one mile of direct tributary streams of the Catawba River, pastures for horses and cattle, wildlife habitat for a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and a variety of forest types.

The project was funded by the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and a cash contribution from the landowner.

The land is enrolled in the American Tree Farm System, the oldest family forest certification program that offers forest owners resources to keep their forests healthy and productive, as well as the N.C. Forest Stewardship Program, a voluntary cooperative that provides technical support for landowners who choose to manage their forests for wildlife, soil and water quality, timber production, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty.

Landowner Jim Sitts and his family purchased the core of their farm in 1998 from Mildred Richards, who, along with her late husband Dee, had owned and lived on the farm for about 50 years. A few years later, they purchased three smaller adjoining parcels to create the farm they now call Misty Meadows.

“We have always considered ourselves to be stewards of our land and, as a family, are glad to have the opportunity to protect our farm so that future generations may live on and work the land, as well as providing excellent and important wildlife habitat,” said Jim Sitts.

Jim, a registered forester, sustainably manages the forested land under the guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council. His wife, Chip, and daughter, Nikki, work with and train their horses using natural horsemanship techniques.

“Conservation easements on family farms can take years to complete, and we are glad to see this project come to fruition,” said Andrew Kota, executive director of Foothills Conservancy. “It has been a pleasure working with the Sitts family through the process, and the conservancy is honored to establish a partnership with them through the conservation easement on their beautiful family farm.”

Agricultural conservation easements are voluntary agreements between landowners and the easement holder. The Sitts family will continue to own the farm while adhering to certain land use restrictions that ensure the integrity of the property’s conservation values. As the easement holder, Foothills Conservancy is responsible for stewarding the conservation easement in perpetuity, which involves an annual inspection of the farm, upholding agreed upon terms and restrictions, and partnering with the landowner on activities that protect and enhance the property’s natural and agricultural resource values.