Four farms -- three near Taneytown and one near New Windsor -- are the first to be admitted into Carroll's critical farms agricultural preservation program.
The program, proposed in July 1991 and approved in April, got into full swing by admitting the farms early this month.
All four farms had been tentatively chosen from a list of six applicants in July. Applicants had to have a contract on the property or to have purchased it within the past year.
The farms were rated on a point scale, giving higher priority to locations that are near other preserved land or that have a high potential for development.
William Powel, Carroll's agricultural land preservation program administrator, said the county commissioners gave a go-ahead signal to have the appraisals done in July.
The appraisals were done in August, Mr. Powel said, and the county agricultural board reviewed them and made recommended easement values at its September meeting.
The four easements will cost the county $575,339, or an average of $1,425 per acre, he said. The money comes from the 75 percent the county receives from the state agricultural transfer tax when farmland is sold for development.
Landowners -- who receive 75 percent of the easement value from the county -- must try to get their property into the state program within the next five years.
If they receive the full easement value from the state, they must repay the county fund. Easement values are the difference between the assessed value of the land if it could be developed and what it would be worth if it remained agricultural.
"We are hoping that this will become a revolving fund," Mr. Powel said. "We are certain this [year's] amount has utilized what we've collected for the last two years. Next July, we'll know whether we've had enough collection to handle any more."
For the Richard E. Adkins family, being accepted into the program will allow them to maintain their current lifestyle on the 83.87-acre farm they have rented north of Taneytown since 1980.
"The farm came up for sale and we wanted to buy it," said Mary Adkins, speaking for her parents and brother. "We couldn't buy it any other way."
The farm, which is also home to 50 dairy cows, eventually will be taken over by her brother, Kevin, Ms. Adkins said. The family hopes to go to settlement on the property at the end of this month.
"When we started [to buy the property], they didn't have a program, it was just in the making," she said. "We were just trying to go with the flow until it was ready, and it was just in time."
Clarence and Joan Bassler simply wanted their 94.39-acre farm to remain agricultural. The couple, who have lived in Carroll since 1972, raise 100-200 beef cattle on the Taneytown farm they bought last year.
"Critical farms seems to be a misnomer," Ms. Bassler said. "It's not critical to us, but critical to keeping the farmland from being developed.
"You always need some agricultural land near any urban area, and it's best to have the open space."
Other sites accepted into the program were Richard E. Luckenbaugh's 145.06-acre farm in Taneytown and Elizabeth W. Mathias' 93.265-acre farm in New Windsor.
The Bassler and Adkins farms will increase a protected area from 542 to 720 acres. The Mathias farm will become part of about 3,000 acres of preserved farmland around Uniontown, Mr. Powel said.