OpEd – East Cooper Land Trust – Stewards of the land

Moultrie News

By Daniel Shaughnessy

Protecting the local environment and quality of life in the community were top issues for voters during the recent elections throughout the Lowcountry. As our communities continue to grow and the rate of development increases, more and more people continue to look to their elected leaders to protect the wildlife habitats and scenic vistas emblematic of the region. While the growing public awareness over environmental issues in our community is welcome, searching for solutions from the local government alone may not yield the best results. Instead, we should also focus our resources and attention to where some of the most effective environmental solutions are born: local conservation charities and the commercial market.

An excellent example of how private organizations are helping the environment in our community is the recent lease agreement and partnership between East Cooper Land Trust (ECLT) and Johnson Family Farms at Thornhill Farm in McClellanville. ECLT, an independent non-profit organization, works with the community to conserve land between the Cooper and Santee Rivers. ECLT originally purchased the idyllic 94-acre farm in 2014 and protected the land forever through a conservation easement. Establishing the conservation easement on the farm alone is a giant environmental step forward. The easement kept the land from falling into developers’ hands and created an opportunity for a new farmer to move close to a major U.S. city, where farmland is most difficult to access.

Now, ECLT has leased the site to Johnson Family Farms. Owners Scott and Tina Johnson recently moved from a successful farm in Indiana to be near family and to live in a scenic community that is passionate about local foods. Now that ECLT has secured a steward for the land, there is an even greater opportunity for a positive impact on the environment. This is because good conservation comes from active management, not neglect. Not only will the active farming of the site enhance the beauty and landscape in the community, but the type of sustainable farming methods used by Johnson Family Farms have also been shown to enhance wildlife biodiversity. Johnson Family Farms’ active management of the site has started, as they have already moved chickens, Angus cattle, and Berkshire pigs onto the property. Additionally, the farm is developed and zoned as a wedding and event space with an open-air barn, bonfire pit and other amenities. Soon, the farm will grow vegetables and have an on-site store, allowing customers in the community to go straight to the source for a truly fresh grocery shopping experience. Ultimately, the Johnson family hopes to establish a truly modern environmental farm with the installation of two hydroponic greenhouses. Most conservationists now agree that hydroponic indoor farming is a key component of environmental protection. Namely, it uses as little land as possible to grow crops and make energy, thereby saving more land for nature.

Because of the environmental strides taken by ECLT and Johnson Family Farms, providing your support to organizations like these is an easy and direct way to make a positive impact today. Donations made to ECLT between now and Giving Day, May 1, will be matched by the Speedwell Foundation up to $20,000. At the least, anyone who was passionate about environmental issues during last fall’s elections should consider directing that same energy toward a local conservation charity or farm. If you are interested in learning more about East Cooper Land Trust check out eastcooperland.org. And, of course, if you would like to welcome the Johnsons to the community, you can find them selling their farm goods at McClellanville Land & Sea Market, Mount Pleasant Farmers Market and Sullivan’s Island Farmers Market.

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