Keeping a valley green

Land: Protecting Long Green Farm and Boordy Vineyards from development is a big step forward in the drive to preserve 6,000 acres of farms and fields.

January 26, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

This time of year, the leafless vines at Boordy Vineyards look as if they've been permanently etched against the gray sky.

Now, Anne M. Deford has found a way to ensure that those vines - which produce seyval blanc and chardonnay grapes - remain firmly rooted in the land.

Deford, owner of 252-acre Long Green Farm - home to Boordy Vineyards - has joined a movement that is responsible for protecting one-third of the Long Green Valley National Historic District in northeastern Baltimore County.

In the past six years, owners of 2,000 acres have sold or donated their development rights to county, state or federal land preservation programs.

Deford says the decision to donate the farm's development easements to the Maryland Environmental Trust in return for tax breaks was a logical one that she hopes will inspire others.

"I've been thinking, it's such a beautiful valley, it should be preserved," said Deford, 80, who moved to the farm with her husband, Robert Deford Jr., in 1945.

Deford's land is considered a critical piece of the historic district, a 6,000-acre expanse of gently rolling fields that lies between Loch Raven Reservoir and the Harford County line.

Historic status, however, does not prevent development of the land.

Boordy Vineyards is "in the heart. It's literally in the center of the Long Green Valley national district," said Cathy Ebert, president of the Long Green Valley Conservancy.

News that the farm and vineyards have been protected has given the valley's preservation movement a boost.

"It's the linchpin. It's a major historic farm. It's very visible to the public because everybody knows about Boordy Vineyards," said John Bernstein, director of the Maryland Environmental Trust.

The donation, which was made last month, leaves Deford's son, Robert Deford III, president of Boordy Vineyards, secure in the knowledge that his vines will continue to flourish in soil that is perfectly suited for them.

Deford, 49, was raised on the farm with three siblings: Jonathan, who works for a construction company and lives on the farm; Bill, an airline pilot; and Sally Buck, who works part-time for Boordy and also lives on the farm.

For years, the family raised cattle, turkeys, green beans, corn and tomatoes. The grapevines weren't brought in until later.

Robert Deford's father, Robert Deford Jr., was a friend of Philip M. Wagner, who founded Boordy in 1945. Twenty years later, Wagner asked his friend if he could plant grapevines at Long Green Farm. Deford said yes.

The family was raising cattle in the 1970s when Robert Deford III went to college in California to study oenology - winemaking - and returned a vegetarian.

"I got rid of the cattle," Robert Deford III said.

Deford's mother thought winemaking "was a wonderful idea. The cattle business wasn't going well." In 1980, they bought Boordy from Wagner and relocated the vineyard - then split between sites in Ruxton and Monkton - to Long Green Farm.

Robert Deford Jr. died in 1987, Wagner in 1996.

Robert Deford III's belief in land preservation is rooted in his love of geology.

"I believe prime soils should be viewed as much a valuable resource as water," he said.

His vineyards are planted in what he calls a "transition" between the durable limestone of the valley and the more porous schist of the surrounding hills.

The soil is "broken up like mica, like flaky rock that allows the vines' roots to penetrate very deeply," he said, noting that a vine's roots can grow to a depth of 40 feet.

"The whole valley needs to be viewed as a precious resource. The soils are exceptional, and the gentle landscape makes it easy to farm," Deford said.

However, the land also has "the easiest types of soil to build on," he explained, making it desirable to developers.

But that's no longer a worry. Donating the easements has given Deford and his family peace of mind.

"You don't want to put a vineyard into the ground if it's not going to be there for the next generation," he said. "We can proceed with the secure knowledge that the land will always be there."

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