Wicks Nursery Conserved Through Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) - Reflecting Successful Cooperative Partnership Among Several Conservation Partners
The Natural Resources Conservation Service played a major role in the campaign to save Wicks Nursery from residential development through financial support for a $2 million perpetual conservation easement which protects nearly 40 acres of farmland. The conservation easement involved collaboration among several parties including the six Wicks siblings, Aquidneck Land Trust, State of Rhode Island, Town of Portsmouth, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), six foundations, one homeowners' association, and almost 90 individuals. Under the conservation easement, the family will be able to continue farming, but restrictions on developing the land are in place. The preservation of Wicks Nursery is especially important when you consider that many conserved properties surround the farm and it was one of the last major properties within the Sisson Pond Watershed that was unprotected and undeveloped.
The Aquidneck Land Trust spearheaded the campaign to save Wicks Nursery during a challenging economic environment where it worked with several parties over a short time frame of less than one year to successfully raise the funds to save the plant nursery and organic fruit and vegetable property from development. "This land would have been bulldozed and hoses built eventually." said Richard Wicks, speaking on behalf of his family at the closing celebration held on Thursday, April 28, 2011. The family had been in talks with several developers in recent years including one that had pressed to subdivide the property into 108 residential lots. Wicks noted that the family purchased the property in 1964 and wanted to keep farming the land but that economic pressures had made it difficult. At the closing celebration, Wicks graciously thanked all parties who had provided funds for the conservation effort.
The $2 million conservation easement protects the land from development where NRCS, providing $1 million in easement funds, was the largest contributor. The Rhode Island Agricultural land Preservation Commission and Prince Charitable Trust also made significant contributions of $200,000 and $150,000, respectively. Such funding was provided through the NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) which provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value of the conservation easement. FRPP was created under the 1996 Farm Bill which provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farms and ranchlands in agricultural use. NRCS RI State Conservationist R. Phou Vongkhamdy noted during the closing celebration, "Since FRPP's inception, NRCS has spent $787 million combined with over $1.4 billion from private entities for a total of $2.2 billion to protect almost 3,500 parcels covering over 800,000 acres of farmland in the U.S. More specifically, in Rhode Island, NRCS has provided about $17 million combined with $24 million from private and public entities for a total of $41 million to work with State and local partners to reserve 40 parcels covering almost 2,300 aces of rich farm land. "It should be noted that between 1980 and 2004 in Rhode Island, 30,000 across of prime farm land and 15,000 aces of wetlands were lost due to development.