Teaching Stewardship Of The Land
By William (Bill)U. Couzens
©Times Community Newspapers 2006

Those of us who have accepted the challenge of protecting open space also have an obligation to further understand the preservation of nature, and its complicated relationship to all living things.

As a farm owner myself, we have donated the development rights of our farm in Middleburg. The easements for our farm are held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).

VOF holds 286,000 acres in 86 local jurisdictions. They currently hold over 1,700 different properties in easement. In the last five years, over 150,000 acres have placed into easements.

In Virginia, conservation easements have many tax benefits. However, despite the amount of land that has been rescued from urban sprawl, our new challenge is teaching stewardship to those now charged with the protection of open space.

One of Next Generations Choices Foundation’s roles is to educate land owners on the importance of understanding the country living aesthetic.

In turn, by doing so, new easement holders soon learn the importance of establishing best practices relative to mowing, buffers and the use of pesticides and other chemicals that may be harmful to both human health and the environment.

We are most concerned with the preventable and unnecessary exposure of pesticides, not only to air and water but relative to human health.

Often, when we have people move to the country, they “love” the land a little too much — mowing every square inch of their property, and treating fields and gardens unnecessarily with pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

But it isn’t just newcomers to the country who unknowingly have implanted the suburban aesthetic of artificial-appearing green, green grass and manicured, sprayed shrubs and trees — reflecting something more like estate living than country living.

Another example in Virginia is that we have been under siege with escalating numbers of vineyards moving to the state. In just the last decade, Virginia has gone from a few vineyards to over 100.

And while sounding like a success story on the surface, the outcomes have not been fully thought out.

The EPA continually warns of the dangers attached to pesticides used by application sites like vineyards. With approximately 1,000 different pesticides, the EPA tests and licenses pesticides from the level of the harm, not safety.

While to some that may not sound like a significant issue, in Virginia we now have vineyards moving in next to schools.

With little to no thought, we now have pesticide applicators well protected in airtight gear from the harms of what they are applying spraying adjacent to schools where children play.

Children are different from adults. Pound for pound, children eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air than adults. Thus, they are likely to be exposed to substance in their environment at higher levels than are adults.

It doesn’t make sense. In Virginia, schools cannot be built next to a pesticide application site like a vineyard, yet a pesticide application site can begin operating next to a school.

As stewards of the land we must take a complete look at our landscapes, our communities and our homes. We must examine how our actions — our choices — will impact the future.