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Jacoby headwaters land preserved

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The Semler farm on Snypp Road, one mile west of Yellow Springs, is one of only four remaining dairy farms in Greene County and contains the spring-fed headwaters of the Jacoby Creek, a source of the Village’s drinking water. Last month the 171-acre farm achieved another distinction — it became the first land in the Jacoby Creek watershed where Village funds were used to permanently protect it from development.

For farmer Jim Semler, the reasons to preserve the rolling fields and row crops which have nurtured him since birth, and give him his livelihood today are many, but come down to a simple joy.

“I just love the cows,” Semler said last week, adding he was thrilled the property would never succumb to encroaching development at the close of a conservation easement secured by the Tecumseh Land Trust and funded largely with federal dollars. The value to the village, according to land trust associate director Michele Burns, is also simple.

“For the village the priority has been protecting a key water resource — our drinking water,” she said. The Jacoby Creek flows south from the Semler farm towards the Village well field on Jacoby Road.

Owned by Semler’s parents, Kingsley, a long-time farmer, and Roberta, a retired Mills Lawn secretary, the Semler family’s farm is part of the proposed Jacoby Greenbelt on the western edge of town, which has for decades been identified by the Village as susceptible to development and therefore important for preservation.

The Semler farm’s development rights, which are now held by the Tecumseh Land Trust, were purchased for close to $400,000. The Land Trust raised $192,000 from the Federal Farm and Ranch Protection Program after securing a local match of $66,950 from the Village’s green space fund and $10,000 from the land trust’s 1 Percent for Green Space Program. The Semlers donated the final 30 percent of the easement. They have already reinvested the one-time cash payment they received to pay down the farm’s debt and invest in a modern grain bin to feed their 40 milk cows.

The closure of the easement, which took four years to complete, is a critical step to permanently protecting the Jacoby Greenbelt, part of the Village Comprehensive Plan’s land use plan since 1970, Burns said. Two other properties were preserved closer to the mouth of the creek, when Morris Bean & Company and Xarifa Bean donated easements on about 260 acres in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, this is the first time Village funds have been used for the Jacoby Greenbelt.

“As with all things in farming, it takes the early adopters,” said Burns, who has already begun to hear from interested neighbors since closing the Semler easement.

The first $50,000 in estate tax revenues the Village receives annually fill the Village greenbelt fund, which began the year at $287,900. With the allocation of funds to the Semler easement and $125,000 for the 204-acre Fulton Farm easement currently in process on East Enon Road, the fund has $145,950 remaining. Starting in 2013, estate tax revenue will no longer be available to the Village.

“What we’re doing with this money is preserving open space and the distinction of our community but leaving [the land] in private hands to maintain it,” Burns said of the easement model. “It’s a one-time payment rather than a continued investment over time.”

The Semler farm has been a small dairy since 1952, when Jim Semler’s grandfather, Paul Semler, purchased the property. Today, about 80 cows and calves graze 36 acres of pasture, about 80 acres are planted in beans and 20 are used for hay. The younger Semler has been farming there since 1977 and lives in the original farmhouse with his wife, Roberta, the current Mills Lawn secretary. Also living on the farm are his parents and his sister Karen Blevins’ family.

The Semlers responded to a Tecumseh Land Trust mailing to area farmers in 2007 and have since worked with the land trust. Their first step was to complete a conservation plan, which the land trust requires to ensure the best environmental practices, with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. The Department of Agriculture paid the Semlers to install a fence around the creek to keep the cows out of the water to improve water quality.

The Tecumseh Land Trust, a nationally-accredited land trust and the state’s top recipient of Federal Farm and Ranch Protection program funds last year, has preserved more than 20,000 acres in Greene, Clark and Miami counties since 1990.


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