So, what are Voluntary Ag Districts and what do they mean? "The whole idea with the voluntary ag district program is to increase awareness of people in the community that they live in a farming community," Rywak explained in an interview last May, soon after the VADs were first approved by the Anson County commissioners. "It offers protection for [the farmers] when people move to the area. The western part of the county is already seeing that growth. We've been protected a little bit by the current economy but... we have seen people purchasing land in Anson County because they've run out of land in other areas. When you get people building houses in agricultural areas, they think they want to move out in the country, but a lot of times, they don't realize what that means— the slow-moving tractors, the noise from the grain bins, the smells."
VADs protect local farmers from nuisance lawsuits, and also provide a buffer from impending development in rural communities.
The districts are completely voluntary, and VAD members like John Springer of Ansonville, one of the first farmers to sign up and also a member of the county's Ag Advisory Board, encourages other farmers to join, as well. "We need more people to sign up and join us," he said.
All participants in the VAD will receive signs to post on their property, identifying it as part of the district. The signs were designed by Jonathan Phillips and made locally by Anson Sign Company, through a grant from the N.C. Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. Each county that is part of the state's VAD program has a sign unique to its county, Rywak said. "All have the Voluntary Agricultural District member statement, but only Anson County has 'First in Conservation' as part of its sign," she explained. Anson County is home to the first soil conservation district in the nation, Brown Creek Soil & Water. One of the first landowners to receive a sign was Evelyn Capel, who owns a farm on Highway 52 South just outside Wadesboro. Jeff Boothby, Capel's grandson, said that his grandmother was proud to be able to have her farm in the program, and even more proud to have a photo taken of the sign on the front porch of "the home place."
Those interested in becoming a part of the VAD should contact Rywak at the Cooperative Extension Office, 704-694-2915.