To the day of his death on Nov. 12, environmental attorney, conservationist and former Board of Supervisors candidate Malcolm Baldwin worked to preserve the green spaces in Loudoun, a county he had watched change dramatically from his farm near Lovettsville.
Now, his family seeks to continue that work in his name with a fund to help preserve small farms through the Land Trust of Virginia. That fund will help pay to set up conservation easements, in which landowners give up development rights on their land.
“Malcolm Baldwin was on our board for I think about four years, and during that time he was always the voice for the working farmer,” said Land Trust Executive Director Sally Price. “And the Land Trust of Virginia, we’re in the business of doing conservation easements, and it costs money to do a conservation easement.”
Baldwin put his WeatherLea Farm in a conservation easement with the Land Trust. But it wasn’t the first home in Northern Virginia for the Baldwin family. In the 1970s, said his wife, Pamela, an accomplished voice for conservation in her own right, and a former USAID officer. The couple built a house in Great Falls. Their work in Sri Lanka from 1988 to 1993 gave them a stop-motion view of how that area grew when they came home.
“We watched Great Falls turn into subdivisions all over the place, mostly McMansions,” Pamela said. “We rented the house out while we were overseas, and we came back every summer for a couple of weeks, and every time we came back the situation around us was more developed.”
The Baldwins wanted to move further out from DC, and in 1992, they bought WeatherLea Farm just north of Lovettsville. But Pamela said the Baldwins—who came to the farm with income from their careers, and never had to live off the land—are not typical of small farmers.
For small farmers, said Fuller, the price of putting land into a conservation easement—hiring attorneys, and surveyors, and other costs—can be too much.
“They quite often are just making ends meet and don’t have extra money, so while they want to be protecting their land from future development, they don’t necessarily have the money to help cover the cost,” Price said.
“So often, the people who have the financial wherewithal to do conservation easements are rich people, and the poor people sell to developers, because that’s their retirement fund,” Pamela Baldwin said.
The Land Trust, said Board of Directors Chairman Christopher Dematatis, tries not to turn away easements due to cost.
“One of the things that we’ve always said at the Land Trust is if we really do run into situations with landowners who are hard-pressed to cover the costs on a timely basis, that we will work with them in any way that we can to help them,” Dematatis said.
The idea for the fund, said Rebecca Baldwin Fuller, one of Baldwin’s surviving children, came as the family tried to write Baldwin’s obituary.
“When I came to the ending part where you say send flowers to here, I realized we didn’t want flowers,” Fuller said. “What we really wanted was to do something that was a donation to some cause that mattered to daddy.”
She said the family started brainstorming, and immediately knew it would be something to do with the environment, Baldwin’s life’s work. They decided it would be best to give to a smaller, local organization, and landed on conservation easements.
She said giving up the potential nest egg of selling land to a developer is not easy.
“Not everybody can easily say, ‘oh, sure, we’ll give up the potential to make a great deal of money off this property,’” Fuller said. “It asks people to be committed to supporting the maintenance of rural lands. And so we started to think about, what if there was something that we could use that would be a fund that would enable some families who might otherwise choose not to do this because of the financial implications.”
Fuller said she has seen farmland in her own neighborhood in Waterford disappear, replaced by suburb. And she said as parents stop farming the land, it makes sense for their children to sell the farm—and so farms drop off the map one by one.
“It’s hard to blame a family for making that choice if there isn’t somebody in the next generation that wants to farm it—the money is there for the taking,” Fuller said. “It’s hard to say, ‘don’t do that.’”
The details are still up in the air, but the fund will be aimed particularly at helping small farmers. Dematatis said he expects the Land Trust will have a more detailed plan after a planning meeting in January.
“A developer would pay so much more, and it’s just such an important thing for people to be doing,” Prices said. “But he understood the pressures on farmers. And so many of them, their children have grown up and gone off, and don’t want to farm, and are perfectly willing to have their parents sell the property to a developer.”
Price said at WeatherLea, Baldwin “got the vision for how hard it is to make a living as a farmer, but what an honorable profession.”
Baldwin’s career was shaped by a lifelong dedication to saving the planet. Upon graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, he went to work in the then-new field of environmental law and policy, convened the first national conference on environmental law, and served as senior environmental law and policy specialist at the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
He would go on to work overseas helping local officials in Sri Lanka establish that country’s environmental laws and policies, among other work. In 2002, he retired to WeatherLea, turning his endless energy to growing wine grapes, raising sheep, and protecting rural lands and businesses in Loudoun.
Here, he co-founded Save Rural Loudoun, was active in the Virginia Farm Bureau, helped created the Lovettsville Cooperative Market, and served on the Loudoun County Rural Economic Development Council and on the boards of the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Land Trust of Virginia.
“He was extraordinary,” Price said. “He spent his life giving back. It’s what I’m sure he had learned early on, that that’s what you’re supposed to do, and he demonstrated it in every way that he lived his life. He was an exceptional man.”
Dematatis said Baldwin was always a strong voice on the Land Trust board for small farms, particularly in northwestern Loudoun.
“He could speak with conviction about it, because he could lead by example,” Dematatis said.
“From the Baldwin family’s point of view, it’s really just that we want to keep up the spirit of what daddy was trying to encourage people to do,” Fuller said. “And when they went through the process of putting their own property into conservation easement, it just gave him such peace of mind. Even if it’s not with our family, with future generations of Loudouners it will be kept green and historic in perpetuity.”
“We both have always been troubled seeing so many of these smaller farms just disappearing and turning into subdivisions, and we have been aware of the constraints that traditional farmers in particular are under,” Pamela Baldwin said.
To donate to the new fund, go to landtrustva.org/support.