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San Juan Preservation Trust lands San Juan’s largest farm

At 687 acres, the Red Mill Farm in San Juan Valley is the largest working farm in the San Juans.   - Contributed photo/Jane Fox
At 687 acres, the Red Mill Farm in San Juan Valley is the largest working farm in the San Juans.
— image credit: Contributed photo/Jane Fox

The San Juan Preservation Trust got its start more three decades ago with a slice of land in the heart of San Juan Valley.

Three weeks ago, the Preservation Trust followed the trail back to its beginning, but this time it came away with much more than a slice.

Through the combination of a land donation and purchase, the Trust acquired San Juan Island’s 687-acre Red Mill Farm, the largest working farm in the San Juan archipelago.

Situated in the heart of San Juan Valley, Red Mill Farm contains some of the most fertile agricultural land in the islands.

The property was purchased in the 1960’s by Dodie Gann and her late husband, the author Ernest Gann. After donating a 40-acre parcel to the Preservation Trust in 1980 (the very first land transaction in its 33-year history), the Ganns followed up in 1991 by donating a conservation easement that limited future development on the farm’s entire acreage to 13 home sites.

The couple’s long commitment to land conservation was spurred into action as they saw important farmland in the valley being carved into small residential parcels, Dodie Gann said.

“If you watch it being destroyed, you get protective,” she said. “It gives me a very warm feeling to know that long after I’m gone, this will still be here.”

Following Ernie Gann’s death in 1991, ownership of the farm was divided in two, with one-half interest going to Dodie Gann and the other half going into a trust that benefited Ernie’s family from a previous marriage.

In a series of transactions that concluded on May 18, Dodie Gann donated her half-interest to the San Juan Preservation Trust, which then purchased the other half from the beneficiaries of Ernie’s trust for $1 million.

“After years of worrying about the future of our farm, it feels like a heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” said Dodie as she was honored at the Preservation Trust’s May 19 annual meeting.

While the acquisition represents a significant investment in the future of local food production in the San Juan Islands, there will be no changes in the foreseeable future.

Dodie Gann has retained a life estate that allows her to live on the property through her lifetime, and Greg Black, who currently manages Red Mill Farm and its cattle operation, will continue in his current role for as long as he wishes, according to Preservation Trust Director Tim Seifert.

The Preservation Trust will assume the responsibility for paying property taxes, which will remain unchanged.

When combined with adjacent and nearby farm properties under Preservation Trust ownership, the San Juan Preservation Trust, a nationally accredited and membership-based land trust, now owns roughly 825 acres in San Juan Valley.

With additional conservation easements that it holds on private land in the valley, the Preservation Trust maintains easements and protections on almost 1,000 acres of farmland in the valley, the island’s most agriculturally productive and one of its most scenic.

The Preservation Trust has permanently protected more than 260 properties, 37 miles of shoreline and 15,000 acres on 20 islands, including land now managed as public parks, nature preserves, wildlife habitat, and working farms and forests.

 

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