If Village government purchases conservation easements on two farms at the north end of Corrales at the July 20 council meeting, that will deplete all of the $2.5 million approved by voters in 2018. At their June 15 session, councillors approved buying an option to place a conservation easement on the Lopez farm, just south of the other pending option on the Phelps farm, owned by Trees of Corrales. Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin said June 30 that the council is expected to exercise both of those options at the July 20 meeting, essentially spending what remains of the $2.5 million raised from issuance of general obligation bonds in 2018.
After Corrales voters raised an initial $2.5 million for the program back in 2004, the first-round of conservation easements on four parcels totalling about 30 acres of Corrales farmland was concluded September 29, 2005, after more than 30 years of community effort to save farmland from development. Even though Corraleños’ second round of GO bond funding for farmland preservation here will have been depleted, plenty more acreage around Corrales now in pasture, orchards, crops or open space could still be saved in perpetuity through the Village’s conservation easement program. Among major tracts remaining are the Trosello Farm, part of which has been used by the Wagner family for its Farmland Experience and corn maze, and the Gonzales family’s acreage west of the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm west of Wells Fargo Bank. That 5.5-acre parcel was purchased outright by the Village, but the family’s three acres next to the bank fronting Corrales Road may also be available.
In March 2018, Corraleños overwhelming approved that second issuance of $2.5 million in municipal general obligation (GO) bonds to acquire new easements. That first round of GO bond funding was used as the local match for more than $1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That federal source of funding dried up, so subsequent acquisitions of conservation easements were achieved with Village funding alone. In 2004, Corrales became the first municipality in the state to approve bonds to save farmland through purchase of conservation easements. If the Phelps farm and Lopez farm easements are completed, Corrales will have preserved nearly 55 acres in perpetuity.
Approximately six acres of that total protected by a donation by Jonathan Porter at the south end of Corrales before the Village’s program started. Porter, son of acclaimed photographer Elliot Porter, donated an easement on his land to the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, gaining substantial tax benefits. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XX, No. 1, February 24, 2001 “First Conservation Easement Here Saves 6 Acres of Farmland.”) Each day across the United States more than 3,000 acres of farmland are lost to sprawling development, according to the Washington, DC-based American Farmland Trust. But over the past 45 years agricultural conservation easement programs have protected about two million acres of such threatened farmland, with programs operating in more than 15 states.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of April 2021, more than 1.9 million acres in the United States have been preserved as farmland, and another three million acres in wetlands and grasslands have been protected with easements. About 17 years ago, Corrales was urged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to request up to $1 million to continue the Village’s farmland preservation program.
By a margin of nearly 5-to-1, Corrales voters approved issuance of municipal bonds to buy conservation easements on farmland here to keep it out of development. The bond election August 31, 2004 was the first major success in a decades-long commitment by villagers to keep their community rural. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary. The intent is to give landowners an option for not selling their acreage to developers. The landowner still retains all the other rights that came with his or her ownership. He or she could sell the farm, sell the water rights, sell the mineral rights, leave it to heirs or do anything else one might normally think of —except develop it as home sites or other non-farm uses.
Once the development right is sold, the land in question would thereafter, in perpetuity, have a deed encumbrance with recorded easement that legally specified that the parcel could not be developed. On May 12, 2005, the Village Council made its first easement acquisition by formally approving purchase of an easement on two acres owned by Shirley and Jack Kendall. The parcel on which development rights were purchased sits at the northeast corner of the intersection of West La Entrada and the Corrales Acequia, or ‘first ditch.” It is adjacent to the Gonzales family fields farmed from Corrales Road westward to the Main Canal, which subsequently was purchased outright by the Village and is now known as the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm. The Kendall easement, and all acquired later, is held and administered for the Village by the Santa Fe-based N.M. Land Conservancy. Easements were later purchased for the field adjacent to Casa San Ysidro Museum, and for a portion of Dorothy Smith’s farm south of Meadowlark Lane between the first and second ditches.
A fourth easement was acquired on a portion of the Koontz family’s Trees of Corrales property at the north end of the valley. In recent years, villagers have expressed interest in acquiring conservation easements for the scenic Trosello tract or at least parts of it, as well as for the equally iconic horse pastures of CW Farms at the south end of the village. Although the Village acquired no easements on the Trosello tract using the 2018 GO bond proceeds, the land is thought to be protected from development at least in the near term by a lease agreement between the landowner and the Albuquerque-based One Generation Fund, in association with the Native American Community Academy (NACA). (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.4 April 10, 2021 “Trosello Field Leased as Non-profit Demonstration Farm.”)
“A couple of weeks ago, I went out and met with Alan Brauer with the Native American Community Academy, Councillor Bill Woldman said in May. “They have entered into a lease agreement on the Trosello fields …the lease is not going to be through the farmland preservation program,” Woldman explained. “They brought a number of students from NACA, mainly Navajos, to the fields to take a look at it. I liked the presentation from Alan for what they propose to do there. It would be about 16 acres, 12 on the east side and four on the west side. “I think it’s going to be an absolutely terrific project once they get going.” He said the lease covers the entire tract along the east side of Corrales Road. “There will be no condos or skyscrapers or other developments there at least for as long as the lease runs,” he suggested.
Before easements on the Lopez and Phelps farms, the most recent purchased was on three acres of the 4.7-acre Boyd property east of Corrales Road in 2015. The Village of Corrales paid approximately $185,000 from the general obligation bonds to purchase an easement on the Boyd property at the end of Candi Lane, according to Beth Mills, of the N.M. Land Conservancy.