Ag Monday: Darington is Farmland Conservation's Gatekeeper

Ag Monday: Darington is Farmland Conservation's Gatekeeper

Sherwood Darington has been tied to the land in one way or another throughout his entire life. As the managing director of the Ag Land Trust, the longtime Salinas resident is working to make sure that, through the preservation of farmland, the Salinas Valley's agricultural heritage will last far into the future.

Darington's roots are set deep in the area. His great-grandfather on his mother's side, Eugene Sherwood, was one of the men who drew the original map for the city of Salinas in 1868. Knighted by Queen Victoria for his service in the Crimean War, Sherwood originally purchased land in the Salinas Valley to run sheep. The "Sherwood" legacy is preserved today by the many places that carry the family name.

After graduating from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Darington worked with Joe Wing for a short time before being drafted into the Army. When he finished his tour of duty he returned to Salinas and went to work for Bank of America as an appraiser specializing in the agricultural sector.

In his fifties, after over three decades with the bank, Darington retired.

"I retired from the bank but the next day I went to work for the Ag Land Trust," Darington said.

Established in 1984, the Ag Land Trust, formerly the Monterey County Agricultural & Historical Land Conservancy, is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of farmland. As the organization's brochure explains, " The goal extends beyond the preservation of productive agricultural land. It is Ag Land Trust's intent to protect and sustain Monterey County's scenic rolling hillsides, long green vegetable rows and vast open spaces."

The Trust preserves land by accepting an agricultural conservation easement from the landowner. This is accomplished by having landowners gift the land or purchases of a conservation easement from the landowner or by the Trust placing conservation easements on lands acquired by the Trust through a gift or direct purchase.

The Ag Land Trust's funding comes from state and federal sources plus private foundations. When landowners enter into an agreement with the Trust they sometimes receive benefits in the form of tax benefits and deductions as well as reduced estate tax liability. In some instances there are property tax advantages also.

Darington is one of the original board members of the Trust. He is one of three present board members who date back to that founding group. When the Trust was formed, existing local easements of about 1,300 acres from the American Farmland Trust were transferred to the group to get them started.

The first easement from a local resident came from Darington's mother, Marjorie. It consisted of a plot of land that is now the Gabilan Wilderness Area.

Currently, the Ag Land Trust holds 75 easements of about 25,000 acres in San Mateo, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.

The task of working with landowners is a never ending process. "At the present time we are dealing with property owners of five different farms in the Salinas Valley," Darington said. "We'll also soon be recording a ranch in San Luis County. We now get a good number of referrals."

Part of the Trust's stewardship is to check the proprieties or easements annually to make sure they are in compliance with the terms of the agreement. That is one of the tasks that the managing director is responsible for.

When the trust office relocated to its present location on Padre Lane, the move was ideal for Darington. He said he is close enough now that he could walk to work if he were so inclined.

As an independent contractor, Darington has filled the position of managing director since 2009. He is a "staff of one" and is contracted for 80 hours a month, although he exceeds that number of hours.

"On a daily basis, whatever needs to be done, I do," he said, explaining that there is always something on his desk that needs attention. If he's not out visiting proprieties, Darington is usually in the office five days a week.

The Trust also owns four parcels of property that Darington oversees. The income from the small farms/ranches help cover the Trust's operational expenses.

Sherwood Darington has already retired twice, but he laughed and said that he hasn't set a timeline for this present position. Last time he retired he said he quickly became bored. He enjoys what he is doing and as long as he can perform his duties, the managing director of the Ag Land Trust plans to keep working.

Sherwood Darington

• AGE: 80

• OCCUPATION: Managing Director, Ag Land Trust, Salinas.

• WORK: Joe Wing Farms, 1956-58. US Army, 1958-60, Bank of America, 1960-98. Ag Land Trust, 1998-2003. Retired, 2003-08. Ag Land Trust, 2009-present.

• EDUCATION: Graduated from Salinas High in 1952. Received degree in agriculture from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in 1956.

• PERSONAL: Lives in Salinas with wife, Colette. The couple has two grandchildren.