Sabrina Shaffer brings a personal perspective to her work in the NCDA&CS Farmland Preservation division.
Shaffer, who joined the division as a Farmland Preservation Specialist in December 2020, is responsible for helping review the many documents needed for farms to enter under conservation easements. Those easements are critical to the division’s mission, as they limit or outright prohibit new development and help landowners maintain their land as working farms in production of food, fiber or forestry.
“I review documents needed for the legal closing of the easements, like surveys, maps, appraisals and all sorts of other information about the farmland,” she said. “We review those to make sure we know exactly what is being protected so that future monitoring can occur. We make sure all the facts about that farm are correct so exactly what is supposed to be protected in perpetuity can be legally recorded. These documents are the framework that will allow others to evaluate if the land is being protected as intended at the time of the easement closing.”
A North Carolina native, Shaffer grew up taking trips to her family’s farm in Stokes and Rockingham counties. She took over management of the farm when she got older, and also began working in private land management.
“I was self-employed, so I not only managed my family’s farm but I also worked with a land management group out of Blacksburg,” she said. “We would help people with sustainable timber harvests, managing their hunting clubs, advise them about conservation easements and other ways to manage their land.”
As development pressure continues to eat up farmland across North Carolina, Shaffer’s own journey to the NCDA&CS began with the loss of her farm.
“Unfortunately my family is selling our farm, so I needed to look for a new job,” she said. “I was very interested in the work that the Farmland Preservation division was doing. North Carolina was recently ranked second in the nation in acres of farmland lost to development, and that speaks to how important this work is. It really is a passion of mine. As humans we have such a connection to land, and I believe that connection is what ultimately can bring us serenity and joy in this life.”
Preserving food production is important to national security, Shaffer said, as is maintaining land along routes used by the military for training exercises. Conservation easements, along with programs like the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, help the NCDA&CS maintain valuable farmland and stave off encroaching development.
While COVID-19 continues to put restraints on in-person interaction, Shaffer said she hopes to get back to working with landowners in the field soon.
“My favorite part I don’t get to do very much, which is actually getting out in the field. When I do site visits with farms that are applying for grants, we get to see the land itself,” she said. “Sometimes I also get to help our field staff, who are mostly retired agricultural and scientific professionals who now work part time for the Farmland Preservation division. I feel like I learn so much from them. We have a great team.”
Looking forward, Shaffer is looking forward to learning more about the work Farmland Preservation does.
“I’m very interested in the work we do with the military, because farms and forestry are compatible uses for land along military training routes while houses and other development are incompatible,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning from the staff who have been here longer than me and just continuing to grow.”