Buckner said she watched the same pattern develop in Fairfax County, Va., whose rural roots have given way to urban sprawl.
"I watched farms in these rural areas vanish, one by one. In just 15 years after I moved there, the farms were nearly gone," Buckner said.
By comparison, it is estimated that over half of Jefferson County's land is still agricultural, Buckner said.
Council members presented the commissioners with a broad outline of the proposed "Rural Option" plan and said they will come before the commissioners again to discuss detailed recommendations. The plan will also require money to fund the agricultural consultant, although Buckner declined to say how much is needed. The funding could come from foundations or government agencies, Buckner said.
Commission President James K. Ruland said he spoke with Buckner about the plan several weeks ago and encouraged her to "proceed with all deliberate speed."
"I just think it's wonderful," Ruland said.
Finding ways to make farming attractive and profitable also serves the important role of saving open space, he said.
Ruland said many people who want more open space often decry chicken or hog farming in the county. But the question is who is going to pay for all the open space, Ruland said.
Commissioner James G. Knode said he had not had a chance to read the 12-page plan, but that the issues raised in the report are familiar to a lot of county residents.
"The goals they are after is certainly what people in Jefferson County are concerned about," Knode said.
Buckner emphasized that the effort would be led by farmers. Although a consultant will help with ideas, it will be growers who determine the course of the plan, she said.
"The farmers will be doing this," Buckner said. "We don't want to speak for them."
Long-time dairy farmer Lyle "Cam" Tabb said he likes the idea. Tabb, of Leetown, W.Va., said it is impressive that his "urban neighbors" are concerned enough about farm loss to pitch in and help the industry. "It's being done by nonfarmers, and that's where it will have to happen," Tabb said Thursday night.
Buckner praised other recent efforts to save farmland, including a proposed farmland protection act being formulated by a group calling itself the Eastern Panhandle People's Empowerment Coalition.
Coalition members are developing legislation about issues that are important to them, and Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, will introduce it in the Legislature.
The coalition's farmland protection act would set up "protective easements" on Eastern Panhandle farms to protect them from sprawl.
It was commonly believed that farming could not survive in a developing area, but that is changing, Buckner said. New studies identify the "real costs" of development and the economic benefits of retaining agriculture, Buckner said.