News Release #2008-09
April 8, 2008
Contact: Don Drysdale
IONE, Calif. – Farmer Dan Port can attest to the historic significance of the name “Winter” in this Amador County community of about 4,000 people.
“I’ve been here about 40 years and people still don’t know my name. They refer to me as being married to the Winter girl,” he said with a laugh.
The Winter family started farming in the area in 1867. George Winter, the grandfather of Dan’s wife, Susan, bought a 180-acre parcel in 1906. Dan and Susan live on that land today. They call it Winterport Farm, a combination of the two surnames.
“I had to get my name in there somehow,” Dan said.
By any name, Winterport Farm will remain in agricultural use forever under a just-completed arrangement between the California Department of Conservation (DOC), the landowners and the Sacramento Valley Conservancy. Through the California Farmland Conservancy Program, DOC funded the conservancy’s purchase of an agricultural conservation easement on the property. The Port family will continue to own the farm and control the agricultural operations, but the land’s development potential is permanently extinguished.
“We’re very pleased to have shielded this fine farmland from future development,” said Brian Leahy, head of DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection. “This farm has a long-term connection with the local community, but there would have been intense development pressure if the landowners were not so committed to farmland preservation. We realize that development is inevitable, but we strive to direct the growth away from prime farmland when possible.”
Winterport Farm is located just south of Highway 104, within half a mile of Ione’s Sphere of Influence. It is currently being used for grazing and hay production, but has been intensively farmed in the past – producing melons, vegetables, pumpkins and Christmas trees – and is likely to be again. The landowners have encouraged educational and other tours of the property over the years.
“We applaud the Port family for its outstanding stewardship of the land and for taking steps to keep it in agriculture,” said Aimee Rutledge, executive director of the Sacramento Valley Conservancy. “Our organization was founded in 1990 on two basic principles – that our quality of life depends in part on open lands and that we must care for the land today so future generations may enjoy it tomorrow – so the completion of this project is very gratifying. We welcome interest from other landowners in the community who may wish to follow the Ports’ example.”
Although Ione – known in the Gold Rush era as “Bedbug” and “Freezeout” – is about 30 miles from either Sacramento or Stockton, there is development pressure: a residential developer recently purchased 16,000 acres just north of Winterport Farm and there a golf course residential development exists between the city limits and the farm.
Noting the potential for sprawl, the California Farmland Conservancy Program awarded a planning grant to the Sacramento Valley Conservancy in 2004 that resulted in the development of the Winterport project. The planning grant also assisted in developing a partnership between the conservancy and the Mother Lode Land Trust, including joint conservation priorities, and development of cooperative conservation easement projects in the East Sacramento County Blue Oaks Hills Rangeland area and Western Amador County.
“The housing market has cooled down, but at the time there was a lot of interest in development,” Dan Port said. “Our little town had already approved the construction of something like 1,000 new houses. That’s why we wanted to put an easement on our property now. We’re in the path of development and we’re trying to encourage them to go the other way.”
Said Ellie Routt, executive director of the Mother Lode Land Trust: "The Ione Valley and western Amador County have a strong farming and ranching legacy. The Port's conservation easement will help guarantee the continuation of this tradition.”
Dan Port didn’t set out to be a farmer; he grew up in the suburbia of Walnut Creek. He met Susan in college, and they returned to the farm in the early 1970s. With fond memories of visits to his grandparents’ walnut farm, Dan agreed to give farming a try, and fell in love with it.
“We encouraged our children to get out into the world before they made a commitment to farming,” Susan Port said. “Our daughter, Carina, works in Sacramento as a writer and editor for the California Waterfowl Association and our son, Jeff, is working on his graduate degree in nearby Davis and spends a lot of his time back here helping out.
“We’re relieved and happy that both of them say they want to return to the farm and take over
someday. Now we know that it will be here waiting for them.”
About the Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP): Begun in 1996, the CFCP has provided $63 million in funding to permanently shield 41,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development. CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Division of Land Resource Protection for information on the program and potential funding. The state also offers programs -- the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones -- that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years. For more information, visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.
About the Sacramento Valley Conservancy (SVC): The Conservancy is a private, non-profit land trust founded in 1990 on two basic principles: that open lands are necessary for quality of life and that we must save land today so future generations may enjoy its benefits tomorrow. The Conservancy buys land only from willing sellers, and works cooperatively with private landowners and public and private funding sources to create win-win solutions. More information about SVC, including the East Sacramento Blue Oak Hills Area project, the Sacramento Prairie Vernal Pool Area, the Dry Creek Parkway, and other projects can be found at www.sacramentovalleyconservancy.org. Donations can be made to the Sacramento Valley Conservancy at P.O. Box 163351, Sacramento, CA, 95816 or by calling (916) 492-0908.