With the pressures of development closing in all around them, fifth-generation farm owners took steps to partner with Wake County and safeguard the legacy of their land, all with the help of the County’s newly expanded Farmland Preservation Program. Wake County Commissioners unanimously approved funding for a conservation easement that will be held by Triangle Land Conservancy to ensure 112 acres of forest land and prime farmland will remain for generations to come, including a portion farmed by refugees from Myanmar who are preserving their cultural farming practices.
“We are losing precious farmland at an alarming rate in Wake County, so this agreement for the Oaky Grove property marks a significant victory for conservation efforts, assuring that this historic property remains farm and open space for perpetuity,” said Wake County Commissioner Donald Mial. “This partnership will conserve prime farmland soils, as well as protect wildlife habitat and water quality in the critical natural area around Mark’s Creek. We can’t thank the Browns enough for leading the way in this new initiative.”
The Oaky Grove Farm, just off Turnipseed Road in eastern Wake County, is owned by Carol and Talmage Brown. The farm's historic significance dates back to 1798 when Talmage Brown’s great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Price, purchased an estimated 353 acres for 400 pounds. At his death in 1830, the farm was a plantation with over 4,500 acres, five grist mills, a plantation home built in the 1800s and a store. The Browns are restoring the home, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
"Preserving this land and ensuring its continuity for future generations fills me with gratitude," said Talmage Brown, a retired NC State professor of veterinary medicine who inherited the former plantation. Brown’s bond with the refugees, fostered by volunteering with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, has deepened his sense of purpose. "It feels like the purpose of a lifetime, a commitment to our community and the forthcoming generations that will cherish the beauty of this land and cultivate it for years to come."
In 2021, the Browns agreed to lease a portion of their land to the Karen Community Farm at Oaky Grove, where Karen refugees from war-torn Myanmar, are reconnecting with their native farming roots. The farmers are part of the Karen ethnic group from the Southeast Asian country and are currently growing crops on nearly three acres. Many Karen refugees arrived in North Carolina more than a decade ago. Today, these farmers and gardeners grow predominately Asian-style produce such as lemongrass, turmeric, Thai hot chilis, yard-long beans and a variety of gourds. The farmers sell these specialty crops and flowers to the local community through local distribution as well as a farm stand on the property open every Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m.
The County’s contribution of $400,000 ensures the protection of this vital piece of agricultural history and land. This amount and the dedication of the rollback tax by Wake County is the largest single county dedication of funds for farmland protection in North Carolina and one of the largest in the country.
“Maintaining more than 100 acres of farm and forest land is hard work, so it's tempting to sell out to developers when your land is valued in the millions of dollars," said Teresa Furr, Wake County Soil and Water Conservation Director. "That’s why it is critical to get more farm owners to join this program where they can protect their farming and family heritage and also benefit from income from selling a conservation easement, as well as potential federal income tax reductions and estate tax deductions."
The purchase of this conservation easement is thanks to several partners, including Triangle Land Conservancy, which will hold and monitor the easement, in addition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and North Carolina’s Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, each of which are contributing funds toward the agreement.
“A recent report by the American Farmland Trust projects that North Carolina may lose up to 1.1 million acres of agricultural land by 2040, which places it 2nd in the entire United States in potential agricultural land lost to development,” stated Leigh Ann Hammerbacher, Director of Land Protection and Stewardship (East) at Triangle Land Conservancy. “Wake County ranks 32nd in the nation for potential farmland loss over the next 20 years so unless we take steps to preserve and protect farmland, we will lose the land that supports food security, the environment and historic communities.”
Today’s action supports the Commissioners' priority to support the County’s growth and sustainability with Economic Strength 3.3: Strengthen County services and policies that support agribusinesses, including farmland preservation, next-generation farming and promoting local food systems and agritourism.