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Don Race’s farm survives because of its relationship with the land— the use of open spaces and the natural order of things. He intends to keep it that way… Blue Ridge Mountains, narrow roads wind past cow pastures and small herds of horses. The fog lies thick in the early morning, and the scent amid the glistening dew penetrates the air. Traffic is scarce, and tractors are as plentiful as passenger vehicles. Darting rabbits skirt the edges of the pavement. Truck tires crunch the stone beneath as you turn onto a long gravel driveway. A small creek flows through, and to the left a small rocky hill offers little more than its simple beauty. On the right, a white farmhouse is nestled far from earshot of the roadway. An etched brick in the home’s chimney reads 1795. Don Race ’66 and his wife have done what they can to preserve this serenity. Their property sits in the midst of their children’s land and that of other family members, with almost all of the roughly 265 acres forever guarded from development by conservation easements. Don’s life and his land have been given over to good stewardship of the environment. For more than three decades, Don has lived with his wife, Judi, in Botetourt County, VA, just north of Roanoke. The cattle farmer and retired ophthalmologist started there with just 17 acres. Before long the property grew by 50 acres. Then large tracts of adjacent land became available. “We ended up buying more and more.” He smiles. The Races first decided to put the land into conservation easements a little more than a decade ago. They had watched as a 130-acre farm down the road was developed into 35 houses. Other agricultural areas around Roanoke were falling victim in the same ways, land getting subdivided and sold. The Races’ land, where wild mulberries and wine berries grow and cattle decorate the fields, wouldn’t see the same fate. “It’s so pretty out here,” Don says. “We want to preserve some of it.” IN THE FOOTHILLS OF VIRGINIA’S

The Spell of Open Spaces For some of the land, he adds, “I probably paid more than I should have, but I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I didn’t want any developers getting it.”

The Races have never regretted buying land when the opportunity arose. They crave unspoiled views and, unlike some farmers who rely on the resale value of their land to fund their retirement, Don and Judi put environmental preservation and peaceful isolation above all else. All but about 20 acres of their land was donated as a conservation easement to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which allows the property’s owners to continue to carry out the traditional use of the land. The easement limits new construction on the property, while the Valley Conservation Council helps oversee the permanent legal protection of the land. The financial sacrifices made in opting not to sell for development can be compensated for by tax credits, which are linked to the difference between the appraised value of the property as developed and its value as undeveloped land. “There’s a tremendous tax advantage,” Don admits, “though I would have done it whether there was a tax advantage or not.” He believes that many people do not donate their land through a conservation easement because of the difficulty in carving out a contiguous piece of land for preservation, as well as owners’ reluctance to pass along the easement restrictions to their children. But the Races’ adult children support the conservation easements. Michael and Jenny have received large tracts of the property—80 and 60 acres, respectively. And Don, who retired from his ophthalmology practice last year, is happy to use his sustainable farming methods on the land. He typically keeps at least 50 head of cattle and a dozen chickens on his farm, which by his own design has been left unnamed, part of the anonymity he has assumed from years of living in a rural environment. No antibiotics or hormones are used on the animals, and the fields are kept lush and green, free from chemical additives. His farm survives because of its relationship with the land—the use of open spaces and the natural order of things. ➤

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Wabash Magazine  

The Journal of Wabash College