When Kelly and Cindy Quaid purchased and moved onto 10 acres zoned for exclusive farm use along the Applegate River about seven years ago, they were realizing a dream.
Both "city kids" from Huntington Beach, Calif., they yearned for a life closer to the land, where they could "develop the other side" of who they are while providing a healthful environment for their children.
Preserving farmland through real-estate purchases is an area of growing interest among residential and commercial investors.
Exclusive farm use zoning stems from a land-use principle that favors agricultural practices by keeping parcel sizes big enough to be efficient for commercial production, keeping incompatible interests out (think subdivisions), assessing value based on farming rather than on development and offering preferential property-tax rates for farm use — often one-tenth to one-quarter of what rates may be if taxed as rural-residential property.
About 80 percent of land surrounding cities in the Rogue Valley are EFU-zoned, according to the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, and the zoning seems to be paying off. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that direct sales from agriculture grew 46 percent between 2002 and 2007, reaching $79 million.
Things to consider when looking at an EFU-zoned property purchase:
• Work the land: Owners of EFU-zoned property have to make an effort to earn an income from the land on their own. "You can't just lease it out to someone else," says Ramsay Realty broker Kelly Quaid.
• Know what you want: If a buyer's dream is to board horses, that will determine the parameters of the property search. "Land with hay on it might be good so you don't have to truck hay in, especially during the winter," says Chris Hale, a broker with Gateway Real Estate in Ashland. If a buyer wants to grow grapes or other crops, soil quality and water rights must be priorities.
• Water is power: EFU-zoned property without sufficient access to water and water rights won't produce much. Do lots of research to determine exact water supplies and rights. Although some property might be less expensive, "if you haven't got good water, you probably want to move on," advises Hale.
• Work with an expert: "You need to have an experienced agent who knows how to deal with the many discoveries that come with a rural property," says Hale. Search for the right agent by browsing websites and noting who works with rural properties. Then ask them how many rural properties they've sold and what percentage that represents compared with their overall sales.
• Cover everything: Well flows, septic testing, home and outbuilding inspections, property lines — all need to be addressed on a rural property. "You have a professional out there making sure the house has structural integrity and all mechanicals are working — these are safety issues," says Hale. "When repairs need to be done, you'll need someone to navigate that."
Because EFU zoning requires a certain amount of the property to be used for income-generating agricultural practices, the Quaids maintained hay fields in addition to the gardens and orchards around their home. They own the water rights for the land and have an unlimited, year-round supply for irrigation, thanks to the nearby river.
After a couple years, however, they got bored with hay. That's when Cindy Quaid met Melissa Matthewson, a small-farms agent for Oregon State University Extension Service, at a meeting. Turns out, Matthewson and her husband, Josh Cohen, own Barking Moon Farm on Thompson Creek, and they were looking to expand.
"We'd run out of production room and, also, water isn't as abundant at our homestead," recalls Cohen. "We knew that to be successful we needed to move into some better soils with reliable water rights. It was serendipity that we met the Quaids."
The farmers now have two farm sites — their own property and three acres they lease from the Quaids — allowing them to specialize in different crops. On the Quaids' acreage between Highway 238 and the river, they grow 200 varieties of 60 different vegetables, and all of it gets sold through growers markets and their community-supported agriculture program.
Leasing the farmland "diversified and mitigated" their risk, says Cohen. The agreement also feeds the landowners' desire to support local sustainability efforts.
"It helps our land provide greater value for the citizens of this area, and it feels good to know we're putting that three acres to a better use," says Kelly Quaid. "These folks needed some land, and it was hard work figuring things out, but to combine their knowledge of organic farming with my land and water rights is a good marriage between these enterprises."