Four riders on horseback next to blue pond surrounded by green grass and a group of brown cows

Working Lands

Sustaining the Economic and Environmental Viability of Local Agriculture

Up to the mid-1900s, the Santa Clara Valley was one of the most productive farming regions in the entire nation. The legendary Valley of Heart’s Delight produced cherries, apricots, and prunes that were processed and shipped all over the country, meeting about a third of the nation’s agricultural demands. But since the 1950s, urban development and sprawl have claimed many of the Valley’s orchards and fields, with farmland declining in the County by 45% in the last 20 years. Of the remaining 27,000 acres of farmland, approximately half is considered at risk of development over the next 30 years (Greenbelt Alliance 2012).

Importance of Working Lands

Close-up of red cherry tomatoes

Half of the Santa Clara County’s land remains in rangelands and productive farmlands, producing almost 40 different crops including fruits, vegetables, and livestock products. In 2012, agriculture from the Santa Clara County had a direct gross value of nearly $261 million, an increase of 5% from 2011 (Santa Clara County 2012) and provided nearly 5,000 on-farm and related agricultural sector jobs (Scheer 2014). The region’s rangelands generated over $6 million for the local economy in 2012 through livestock grazing, also contributing to our region’s quality of life. 


Red tractor driving through green crops, with golden hills and blue skies in background

Agriculture in the Santa Clara County faces many challenges such as changes in the economics of ranching, skyrocketing land values, and development pressures put on local farmers and ranchers. Obstacles such as changing regulations, various permit regulations, an aging farming population, and marginal profitability also contribute to the struggling agricultural infrastructure. Unique to California, an increase in traditionally low water rates and the number of small, disconnected agricultural parcels pose additional challenges to the County’s working lands.


The Open Space Authority works to identify and preserve the County’s most important farmland and rangeland by collaborating with farmers, ranchers, agricultural organizations, natural resource agencies, and local, regional and state initiatives.

Strategies include:

  1. Promoting a healthy and environmentally sustainable agricultural business sector through land use planning efforts.
  2. Optimizing natural resource protection and protecting farms through fee purchase, conservation easements and other incentives.
  3. Educating the public about the benefits of local agriculture and promoting economically sustainable working lands.

What are Conservation Easements?

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal arrangement where a landowner and a land trust or public agency agree that the land will remain protected forever. Landowners still own the land and the easement stays in place even after the land is sold or passed to the next generation. The land trust or public agency monitors the land at least annually to ensure that the conservation values stay protected. Learn more about our protected lands and existing conservation easements.

Work with the Open Space Authority

If you are interested in working with the Open Space Authority on the donation or sale of a conservation easement or property, please contact us.