Alpharetta comic legend Jeff Foxworthy has granted a conservation easement on 1,000 acres of his Georgia farm to the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust, guaranteeing that property will never be used for future development.
“As someone who grew up in Atlanta and watched it explode, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this could be here forever and nobody could develop it? ‘ ” said Foxworthy in a phone interview today from the property, which is based in Harris County between LaGrange and Columbus, about 100 miles south of downtown Atlanta. “It’s my escape. It’s my farm. I can drive through the gate and not have to be Jeff Foxworthy. Just Jeff.”
The land, which Foxworthy purchased in 2003, was being eyed as a possible golf course, he said. It was originally part of Cason Callaway’s 40,000-acre Blue Springs Farm, which was established as an agricultural experiment in the 1940s to promote better farm practices. The easement allows Foxworthy to maintain private property rights and the ability to live on the land. He also receives a tax break.
Originally, Foxworthy said, he purchased his entire 3,000-acre property as an investment. But he certainly doesn’t need the money or has any desire to sell the land before he dies. In fact, he hopes as he gets older to spend more time there.
He received advice about such conservation easements from local environmentalist Chuck Leavell, a former member of the Allman Brothers, a keyboardist who has toured with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and founder of environmental news service Mother Nature Network.
“Jeff Foxworthy is not only a great talent, he is a great outdoorsman and environmentalist,” Leavell wrote in an email. “He has really stepped up to the plate with this conservation easement, and it shows he is serious about being a good steward of his land. He stands as a model for others, and I admire his willingness to make this bold move. Jeff, you ROCK!”
The Land Trust Alliance, an umbrella group representing 1,700 land trusts across the nation, recently did a census and said the total number of acres conserved by land trusts reached the 47 million mark, a 27 percent increase between 2005 and 2010.
“I’m in a position to do it so why not?” Foxworthy said. “It’s a beautiful place. I wanted a place for my grandkids to see that is unspoiled.”
He enjoys the pristine rolling hills, the gentle creeks, the wild dogwoods and azaleas and oodles of wild deer and turkey that cross his property. He built a horse-shoe lake that has attracted several bald eagles to his home.
“The first time I saw one,” he said, “I thought, ‘That is not a buzzard!’ ”
He said he recently caught a bass in his lake with puncture wounds. “That bald eagle tried to pick it off,” he said. “It was like a scene from National Geographic!”
When Foxworthy met with Howard Hollis “Bo” Callaway, part of the famous Callaway family, Bo showed him a 5,000-year-old bowl that had been found on Foxworthy’s property years before he purchased it. That’s how far back humans have been roaming that land.
At age 53, with more than a quarter century of stand-up and TV success, Foxworthy has reached an age where he is starting to look toward his legacy. “What am I leaving the next generation and the one after that?” he said. “I’ve been lucky in a profession where I’ve gotten to do everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Foxworthy now has the luxury to be picky about his project. He is still tickled pink by the success of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” which he hosted on Fox and in syndication until it was cancelled last year.
He said he is pondering other TV projects. “People call me wanting to do shows,” he said. “Most are stupid. So I’m holding out.” He is intrigued by a possible talk show but isn’t keen on the amount of time a daily show would eat up. (In comparison, he shot an entire season of “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” in a mere five and a half weeks.)
Foxworthy also recently participated in a video for the upcoming 30th anniversary of The Punchline Comedy Club. He started his comedy career there in 1984. There is video of his very early performance days. “That was when I had a mullet and hadn’t even told a single redneck joke yet,” he said.
Foxworthy is amazed he got to the level of success he did so quickly, going from amateur night to headliner in 18 months in the mid-1980s. “Ignorance was bliss,” he said. “I had no idea. I knew nothing about the business when I quit IBM. It was crazy with 6,000 people trying to become comics at the same time.”
So 2012 will involve a few comedy dates with fellow Blue Collar Comedy tour mates Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall, he said, and if a TV project happens, it happens. He also has a new outdoor product line called Foxworthy Outdoors, including RVs and bug spray.
“I’ve got to do something,” he said, “or I’d drive my wife crazy!”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk