How real estate (and beer) can help save our dying planet

We're saying bye to farmland and rainforests far too often. Here's how real estate agents can help change that

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I live in Loudoun County, Virginia, about an hour from Washington, D.C., on what was once a booming dairy and cattle farm.

With a neighborhood of 50-plus homes newly erected right across the street, I think it’s safe to say my area is probably one of the oddest conglomerations of city, suburban and rural property in America — my dirt road sees traffic ranging from cars and bikes, to deer, foxes and horseback riders (like myself).

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen farm after farm fall into the hands of developers as the housing shortage in our area demands to be remedied. And as a generation of lifelong farmers ages out, retirement sounds a lot better than 4 a.m. milking or seeding hay fields — so the for-sale signs continue appearing alongside these heritage farms.

Less than a century ago, this area boasted over 100 massive dairy farms. We are now down to two.

As Loudoun County’s farms steadily disappeared, the burgeoning winery and brewery trade emerged, bringing along with it unprecedented tourism growth. It’s no longer unusual to see prolific hops growing up tall posts or acres of vineyards lining the countryside in perfectly straight and well-ordered rows.

The people who own Dirt Farm Brewery just a few miles from where I live have created cups with the embossed statement, “No Farms, No Beer.” The sad reality is that the beautiful landscape that was one inhabited only by cows is now dotted with a growing number of McMansion-style houses.

Credit: Ida Grabiak

Messing with the planet a bit too much

The high tax rates make many farmers consider moving out of our county to other areas with lower tax rates. Pretty soon, my sweet little hometown is probably going to get swallowed whole by the all-encompassing D.C. sprawl, and the farmland will forever be gone. As a Realtor, equestrienne and farmer, I wonder about how I fit into this.

As an avid environmentalist, I see the frighteningly rapid decline of our planet as we suck the last bit of life out of her. I wrote about the destruction of our rainforests for AgFuse (sort of an agricultural Inman), and the research I conducted revealed that if we don’t stop Amazon deforestation immediately, there will be no rainforest left to save in as little as 10 years.

As a former vet tech, I have seen countless frightened, lost dogs and cats that have to be transported hundreds of miles away to find new homes due to the financial devastation, injury or death of their owners due to natural disasters like wildfires and floods.

Also, as a person that grew up vacationing at the Jersey shore, I now go back and am in shock of the miles of coastline permanently underwater from the rise of our oceans and the permanent devastation caused by hurricanes past.

No matter where you live, the health of our planet affects us all. Mother Nature is pissed (pardon my French) and she’s letting us know it. Science has proven that centuries of misuse of our planet has helped intensify hurricanes and other violent storms, wildfires and the melting of the polar ice caps, among other devastating things.

So what can we, as Realtors, do about helping out dear old Mother Earth? As it turns out, there’s a lot we can and should be doing.

Change starts with you

Most people have no idea how much they contribute to landfills every week. Average people put their trash in a bin, wheel it to the curb, and away it goes.

When my husband and I moved to our farm, we needed to haul our trash to the dump. Although we always recycled religiously, we were appalled by how much trash we had to take to the landfill. We started composting (an option not available to many) and now a lot of our food scraps go to our ever-hungry chickens.

I have found great uses for coffee grounds and even used egg shells in my gardens. My neighbors regularly contact me to get aged compost for their gardens — and we are more than happy to give it away for free. We now do dump runs that are 80 percent recycling and 20 percent trash.

Recycling

It shocks me how many neighborhoods don’t have something as simple as a recycling pickup. Setting up a recycling program where you live is a great way to promote yourself — although for marketing purposes, I don’t think I would put my face on the side of the container … but that’s just me.

Animal rescue

If you love pets, consider fostering or adopting a displaced dog or cat from an area hit hard by natural disaster. You’ll have given it the gift of a lifetime loving home, which they will always love you for.

Support local farms and businesses

If you are blessed to live in an area with local farms, support your local farmers. Buying local means local farmers can afford dance lessons for their children, or maybe much-needed fencing repairs.

Buying local also means you are getting the freshest produce and meats available, so it’s a win for everyone. If you stop frequenting the grocery store, I highly doubt Frank Perdue and family are going to notice, but a local small farmer will certainly remember you and be grateful for your patronage.

Helping homeowners

Lastly, find out what the options are for homeowners who are buying large parcels of land and want to make certain their land forever stays undeveloped. Land trusts, conservation and open space easements, land use tax credits and other options can bring acreage owners great tax benefits and ensure their land doesn’t become the next big development.

Knowing the possible options available to homeowners and who they need to contact to sign up is a great way to get the word out that you are not only a great Realtor, but that you’re educated on every last option available to help your buyers make the most of their land.

The right membership

Becoming a member of your local land conservancy trust is another wonderful way to keep your ear to the ground on all things environmental.

Living an environmentally responsible life isn’t hard. Every piece of trash picked up, every acre put in conservation easement and every pet rescued makes a difference.

If we all did our part, it would make a huge impact on the longevity and health of our planet.

Involve your brokerage

I am blessed to work with a brokerage that is very service-oriented. After Hurricane Harvey, Century 21 Redwood teamed with JK Moving and sent a giant tractor trailer filled with much needed items like bottled water and diapers to the areas hardest hit. We didn’t do it for publicity — we did it to help, and helping feels really good.

Volunteer with a charitable organization

Not all charity requires donation of money or supplies. Twice annually, my neighbor organizes a neighborhood trash pickup sponsored by Keep Loudoun Beautiful that encourages neighborhoods to pick up roadside trash. The supplies, like trash bags and tools for picking up garbage are supplied, and the organization even arranges for pickup.

If you have an organization like this in your area, consider volunteering as the head of a certain territory, or if there is no organization, start one.

‘Adopt’ a road

Your brokerage may also consider “adopting” a street or roadway that members of your brokerage can keep clean with regular refuse pickup.

It takes 500 years for aluminum cans to oxidize and degrade, and a minimum of 450 years for a plastic bottle, so every piece recycled helps!

Volunteer disaster planning

Brokerages in disaster-prone areas like coastal flood zones or areas prone to wildfire can offer lectures or seminars on how to create a disaster plan.

Bringing in speakers well-versed in disaster relief and prevention tactics is a great way to help your community and shows that you are a brokerage that cares. Planning for disaster during a disaster isn’t the right way to do it. Well-made disaster plans save lives.

If you plan to have a disaster preparedness presentation, also consider bringing in a few local insurance agents to discuss what special coverage people in these areas may need but may not know about.

After Hurricane Sandy decimated the Jersey shore, it was well over a year before many residents were able to move home. There were a lot of problems with residents not having proper insurance coverage, and many families were financially destroyed. Wondering if you are properly covered for flood loss after your home has been washed into the ocean is obviously poor planning.

Having a good plan for disaster relief is the first and often most important step in making it out of a disaster alive without facing financial doom when a total loss of property occurs.

As the environment continues to take a beating, scientists firmly believe natural disasters are going to increase in frequency and severity. Global climate change is altering rain patterns, and many parts of the country are seeing rampant wildfires that never sparked before.

It would be naive to think picking up trash twice a year will solve all of our environmental problems, but it’s a start.

Joining and supporting local environmental groups and becoming involved in local and national politics as they pertain to the health of our planet is another way to make a difference. Every voice counts.

Next time you sit down to enjoy a beer after a long day of real estate madness, remember the farmers and craftsmen that made that beer possible. The hours, days, months and years that go into making that beer along with the blood, sweat and tears all culminate in a product that is often enjoyed in under an hour.

And remember that none of it would be possible without the land, the farmers and a climate capable of sustaining life.

Shouldn’t it be everyone’s responsibility to help save our planet? I think so.

Maria Dampman is the owner and manager of Smiling Cat Farm and a Virginia State licensed Realtor and ABR with Century 21 Redwood in Leesburg, Virginia. Visit her on Facebook or LinkedIn.