San Benito Agricultural Land Trust’s 3,173-acre Wilkinson Ranch easement in Panoche protects cattle grazing, oak woodlands and other sensitive habitats. Photo: Sara Steiner

San Benito Agricultural Land Trust (SBALT) is applying for national accreditation, and is asking the public to submit comments in support of the prestige-enhancing designation.

SBALT has operated as a local nonprofit since 1993, and since then has worked with landowners and other agencies to permanently protect more than 6,700 acres of farming, grazing and other agricultural lands in San Benito County.

Now SBALT is applying for accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, which would give the local land trust a major boost in terms of fundraising, reputation and ability to reach more landowners or donors.

“It helps prepare the organization itself because it requires us to reach the high standards of this national organization,” SBALT Executive Director Lynn Overtree said. “The effort of applying for accreditation challenges a small organization like this to become more professional.”

She added, “If we are accredited, it makes us trusted more by our partners, including the county and landowners, and it makes us more competitive for funding for conservation work.”

The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting agricultural lands and natural places. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. 

The commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications.

Comments must relate to how SBALT complies with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards, visit

SBALT and other land trusts use conservation easements, property acquisitions and other land use tools to protect and preserve undeveloped land in perpetuity. Many land trusts include open space and wilderness lands in their preservation strategies, but SBALT focuses mostly on agricultural property.

“(SBALT) is dedicated to providing financial options to farmers and ranchers in order to protect the agricultural heritage of San Benito County,” says SBALT’s website. “The trust can protect land permanently and directly by accepting conservation easements designed to meet the individual needs of farmers and ranchers.”

SBALT’s most recent preservation is the Phil Foster Farm in San Juan Bautista. An easement for just over half the farm—roughly 27 acres—was acquired in 2019. Using funds from the county’s agricultural mitigation program, SBALT purchased the land’s development rights from Phil and Katherine Foster, thereby securing a permanent easement, Overtree explained.

The sign at the entrance to Foster Ranch in San Juan Bautista touts the partnership between the former property owner and SBALT, which is on a mission to preserve the entire 51-acre farm.

SBALT is currently in the process of acquiring the remaining half of the Foster farm, Overtree said. The nonprofit has acquired funds from state and federal programs to complete this purchase.

The Fosters were “willing landowners” in the preservation effort, Overtree added. The family approached SBALT a few years ago with a desire to see their property preserved as a farm forever.

“That’s an example of a project that is using (local) mitigation funds and state and federal grant money,” Overtree said. “Other projects are going to rely heavily on private donations.”

Other properties preserved over the years by SBALT include Soap Lake, Brandenburg farm, Rancho Larios, Silva Ranch, Wilkinson Ranch and Cook farm.

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment, visit

Comments may be sent by email at [email protected], fax at 518.587.3183 or by mail to Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments, 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Comments on SBALT’s application must be submitted by July 9.

For more information about SBALT, visit

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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