Journey Through Hallowed Ground

My wife and I took our annual tour last weekend through the beautiful Virginia countryside to partake of fall foliage, lovely vistas, wine tasting, fine dining and the Commonwealth’s rich historical heritage. It just so happens that the area we love the most — the rolling hills between Charlottesville and the Potomac River — overlaps with the Virginia portion of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground.

Among the friends we visited was Cate Magennis Wyatt, who, as coincidence would have it, is the driving force behind Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Her immediate goal is to win federal designation as a National Heritage Area for the historical swath between Charlottesville and Gettysburg, Pa. Longer term, she wants to preserve historical sites as well as the unique landscapes and lifestyles of the region by building tourism and agriculture.

Wyatt, a former real estate portfolio manager and developer, is a capitalist. She is building a preservation program based on respect for property rights and market principles. The National Heritage Area designation, she says, will prohibit the acquisition of land through condemnation. Further, no federal funds from the NHA legislation will be used to purchase land. The proper way to preserve the region’s history and character, Wyatt insists, is (a) to build awareness of the region’s rich heritage, (b) to raise private funds to buy irreplaceable properties, and (c) to find economic models for agriculture and tourism that will make the property more valuable in its current uses than it would be if carved up for subdivisions and shopping centers.

Wyatt outlines some of her views in an op-ed piece in the Loudoun Times-Mirror. But that column barely scratches the surface of her fertile thinking. Some of her ideas are still in the formulation stage, so it is premature to discuss them. Suffice it to say that if a mere fraction of them come to fruition, Journey Through Hallowed Ground will become a textbook study in historical conservation.

By the way, if you’re looking for a fun weekend retreat, consider Virginia’s northern piedmont. You can order the Journey Through Hallowed Ground travel guide here.

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7 responses to “Journey Through Hallowed Ground”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Well, 5% interest on $10,000 an acre is $500 per year.

    According tot the extension agent, soybeans are worth $75 per acre per year, before labor and machinery costs. If you get 120 bushels of corn per acre and the price is $250 a bushel you will clear $73.11 per acre. Depending on the weather and yield, plus price, the range (or risk) can be from -$53.49 to +$201.51 per acre.

    You can see crop budgets at

    If she can “find” economic models for agriculture and tourism that will make the property more valuable in its current uses than it would be if carved up for subdivisions and shopping centers, and that can cover the spread indicated above, then she will have pulled off a neat trick.

    All we have to do is make corn and soybeans six to eight times as profitable as they are now.

    That will work as long as you have the desire and are able to deal with tons of product, heavy labor, and cantankerous machinery. A high percentage of virginia farmers are already in their 70’s.

    Paradoxically, the more steady the increase in land prices, the more likely a farmer is to stay in the business. Why sell out this year, if you can sell out next year for more?

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Instinctively, the tourism claim sounds sensible. But it would be good to see some data.

    I’m hardly an expert on farming, but my wife grew up on a farm in Ohio and still owns an interest in that farm. From what I’ve observed over the years, there isn’t much that could be done, except to create some huge price support program, to make farming more profitable. But those always seem to channel the big bucks to few big and connected farmers.

    Is there some wonder crop or super animal out there that will make small or mid-sized farmers very profitable? If so, I like to clue in my brother-in-law.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Well, there is always someone touting the latest nich market where you can make a killing. But when everyone enters a niche market it gets flooded and the price collapses.

    Fundamentally we have far more capacity than we can ever use. All of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S. use less than 5% of the land.

    The latest niche Market is ethanol. But gas would have to go to $10/gallon in order for ethanol to pull up the price of corn far enough to beat the spread shown above.

    Then of course there are drugs. The bigggest cash crop in California and Oregon is, guess what. Columbia and Afghanistan have profitiable farms, too. Again, these are niche markets that depend on government “protection”. (This paragraph is a joke, don’t take it seriously.)

    Basically my argument is for price supports. We have a large army of people who say we need to save these farms and open spaces, let them figure out how to do it.

    One way to do it is to price all the non-market values that farms provide. Right now, we are either stealing those values, stealing the value of the farm, or both. And we do that by claiming all the public benefits they provide, as the Chesapeake BAy Journal says “for free”.

    In New Zealand, and some other countries, farmers get a direct payment for environmental services. That is in addition to whatever they can make, and in addition to the other crop subsidies. By doing this, they can get around WTO regulations about farm subsidies: they are not subsidisng the farm, they are buying farm services.

    I’m not kidding. Fauquier claims I’m saving them $2800 a year dor every house I don’t build. Frankly, I’d rather have the house, because it would be more money to me (and more risk), but lacking that, (and without the risk) I’d be happy if the county just conceded that the farm is really providing banking services to them, and they could pay me 5% interest on what they claim I’m saving them. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    I’d be so happy, I’d stop blogging. Anything is better than nothing. Even nothing is better than negative, which is what I have now.

    If she wants to have lunch with me to discuss that kind of economic model, I’d be happy to have an introduction.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    This just occurred to me.

    The land use tax is about $4.00 per acre. At $73.11 per acre profit, that works out to 5.5% tax as compared to about 1% tax for real estate.

    And some people think land use tax is a big benefit to farmers.

    Ask Cate to work on that.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    How about an American Farm Corps, like the Peace Corps?

    The government could pay people to go out on the farms and help out while learning valuable skills. It wouldn’t be a direct subsidy to farms, but it could be a big help.

    I’ve got an 1830’s Log barn that is just gorgeous. But I’m (and everyone else who ever painted or enjoyed it is) going to lose it without help. It would take a lot of work, and a lot of skills, but it could be fun and rewarding, and useful to the farmin the end.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    You mean to tell me that’s it? That is all the ideas we have to help Cate out?

    Looks like the Journey Through Hallowed Ground is going to be a Long Road to Hoe.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar

    No, Ray, those aren’t all the ideas for saving the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. I’ve broached the topic at only the most abstract level. I’ll write more about it eventually.

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