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Chatham County working on new farmland preservation plan

Farmland is seen with standard solar panels from Cypress Creek Renewables, Oct. 28, 2021, in Thurmont, Md.
Julio Cortez
Farmland is seen with standard solar panels from Cypress Creek Renewables, Oct. 28, 2021, in Thurmont, Md.

Chatham County is working on a plan to preserve farmland. The county is asking for feedback from residents, whether they work in agriculture or not.

Chatham County created a farmland preservation plan in 2010. Since then, the county's population has grown by more than 20%.

According to the State Demographer, Chatham's population is projected to grow another 16% — to more than 89,000 residents — by 2030. The county will see massive factories for automaker VinFast and computer chip company Wolfspeed over that timeframe.

"As we become more urban here in in Chatham County, it's about building those sustainable partnerships and not having an urban and rural divide that, in essence, will stop agricultural development or stop economic development," said Cooperative Extension director Ginger Cunningham.

As part of the new farmland preservation plan, Chatham County haslaunched surveys open to farmers, agribusinesses, and all residents. Paper copies are available at county libraries and the Cooperative Extension office. Reponses are due May 31.

According to a 2017 censusby the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 1,100 farms in Chatham County. A report by the American Farmland Trust says the county could lose 14,700 acres of farmland by 2040.

Agriculture matters to everyone in the county, according to Soil and Water District Director Susannah Goldston. She says Chatham County needs to take steps to preserve as much farmland as possible.

"Farmland is not just producing food for everybody. It's producing open space and food for wildlife. It acts as a filter for rainwater runoff," she said.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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