Fifth-generation farmers Bob and Barbara Cecchini wrestled with the idea of selling the family’s century-old asparagus farm in Contra Costa County. It would not be an easy decision, but they were growing older and the market for their product has changed. If they sold the farm, it’s likely more than 500 acres of prime farmland would be paved over to make way for housing.
Once they learned about an agricultural conservation easement program, however, it didn’t take long for the Cecchinis to decide to keep the farm. Keeping the farm would not only protect their family business and way of life, but a valuable source of healthy food for people in need, and resources and precious farmland for new and future farmers. Putting more than 500 acres into a land trust “was a family decision with all generations involved,” Barbara Cecchini recalled.
An agricultural conservation easement is a voluntary, permanent deed restriction that eliminates the development rights associated with a property while allowing landowners to continue to use their land for agricultural purposes.
The Cecchinis worked with a local land trust that was willing to purchase an easement on their property, and the land trust secured Cap-and-Trade dollars through the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation (SALC) Program to purchase the conservation easement and permanently protect the land. The easement holder, Central Valley Farmland Trust, extinguished development rights on the property while the landowners retained ownership of the land.
“We are delighted that this unique family farm will continue to serve as a hub for not only the Cecchini family, but also the Brentwood community and the future farmers the family supports,” Central Valley Farmland Trust Executive Director Charlotte Mitchell said. “This easement epitomizes the goals of the SALC Program by protecting farmland on the urban edge that would otherwise be developed and no longer able to provide fresh, local food for the community.”
Besides protecting the family farm, the easement also protects First Generation Farmers (FGF), a nonprofit launched in 2013 by the Cecchini’s daughter, Alli. Through the nonprofit, Alli grows diversified, organic produce on her parents’ land, and sells it throughout east Contra Costa County on a “take what you need, pay what you can” basis, allowing all individuals, no matter their income level, access to fresh, healthy vegetables. What FGF can’t sell, it donates to local food banks. To date, it has donated approximately 60,000 pounds of fresh produce to those in need.
FGF also uses plots on the Cecchini property to connect new and future farmers to the land.
“We plan to aid aspiring farmers through our nonprofit First Generation Farmers Urban Edge Sustainable Farming program,” Barbara Cecchini said. “If the graduates wish to continue farming in our rich diverse area we will facilitate their ability to transition in place on the 500 acres protected by the agricultural land trust."
Through this program, FGF provides after-school programs, summer camps, farm tours, and a farm incubator program that teaches budding farmers to grow ecologically sustainable food; and its efforts are only growing. With the help of the SALC Program, the Cecchinis have protected their property from development forever — not just for their family, but for generations of farmers to come.