The San Juan Preservation Trust is pleased to announce that it has acquired the 687-acre Red Mill Farm on San Juan Island, the largest working farm in the San Juan archipelago.
Red Mill Farm is located in the heart of San Juan Valley, which contains perhaps the most fertile agricultural land in the San Juan 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 San Juan Preservation Trust in 1980 (the very first land transaction in the organization’s 33-year history), the Ganns followed up in 1991 by donating a conservation easement on their Red Mill Farm property that restricted future development to 13 home sites.
The couple’s long commitment to land conservation was spurred to action as they saw important farmland in the valley being carved into small residential parcels. “If you watch it being destroyed, you get protective,” says Dodie. “It gives me a very warm feeling to know that long after I’m gone, this will still be here.”
Upon Ernie Gann’s death in 1991, the property’s ownership was divided in two, with one-half interest going to Dodie Gann and the other half-interest 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 in the property to the San Juan Preservation Trust, which then purchased the other half-interest from the beneficiaries of Ernie’s trust for $1.0 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 annual meeting on May 19.
While this represents a significant investment in the future of local food production in the San Juan Islands, there will be no noticeable 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. The Preservation Trust, as the landowner, now assumes the responsibility for paying property taxes.
The Preservation Trust eventually intends to establish its headquarters on the Red Mill Farm property. “We’ve conserved hundreds of properties and over 15,000 acres since we received that very first donation of land in 1980 from Dodie and Ernie,” said Tim Seifert, the Preservation Trust’s executive director. “The symbolism of converting our original benefactors’ home into our permanent headquarters is not lost on any of us.”
When combined with adjacent and nearby farm properties under Preservation Trust ownership, the San Juan Preservation Trust now owns approximately 825 acres in San Juan Valley. With additional conservation easements that it holds on private land in the valley, the Preservation Trust has protected almost 1,000 acres of farmland in this scenic and productive landscape.
Visit YouTube for a video of Dodie describing her motives for conserving her farm.