From kale to turkeys, green onions to eggs, Thornhill Farm has been operating as a sustainable agriculture hub and adaptive therapy garden since 2006. But now that owner Gary Thornhill has decided to sell his 100-acre McClellanville property, East Cooper Land Trust (ECLT), an organization that works to preserve natural spaces, is determined to buy the land and place a permanent conservation easement on it. Tonight Charleston County Council will vote on whether to approve primary funding for the sale through the Charleston County Greenbelt Bank.
“We feel this land could be a valuable teaching resource,” says Catherine Main, the ECLT’s executive director. Main says that while communities can determine how property is developed through zoning laws, a land trust can preserve a natural landscape in perpetuity. Such would be the case with Thornhill, saving the current site from the ever-increasing crawl of development up Hwy. 17. But there’s the issue of the price; it’s roughly $1.5 million.
“The largest part of the funding would be through the Greenbelt Bank, which they’re voting on tonight,” Main explains. Thornhill has offered the land at a bargain price, the remainder will need to come from the S.C. Conservation Bank.
If county gives their approval, ECLT will begin plans to develop the space into a model farm — a micro classroom, if you will. ECLT also hopes to partner with a large nonprofit. Clemson has been discussed.
“It’s so diverse, there’s potential for livestock like sheep and a dairy, there’s bees for honey, vineyards, and there’s a stocked seven-acre fish pond,” says Main.
For Maria Baldwin, a sustainable agriculture pioneer in Charleston, operator of Our Local Foods, and longtime farm manager of Thornhill, she sees the potential sale to ECLT as a great opportunity. “I’m proud of what we did there,” she says. “I would love to see it become a model farm and I’ve pledged to help see it through.”