Yesterday, I attended our county’s Farm Advisory Task Force meeting. This task force is made up of 15 farmers from our county with a wide range of demographics. I believe I am serving in the seat as a young farmer in our area. (But I think I am also a token organic farmer and a woman, ohh well token is good sometimes).
Yesterday’s meeting brought a speaker from the Metropolitan Council. The speakers presentation focused on the Met Council’s 2030 and 2040 plans and how the role of agriculture fit into those plans. For those of you not familiar with zoning and planning in the Twin Cities and surrounding area, here is the quick and dirty. Counties, cities and townships are required to submit a comprehensive plan every 10 years. The plans are given to the Met Council and the Met Council can approve or not. The Met Council has authority over regional parks, regional transit (interstates), airport and sewer treatment. The goal is to make the seven county area mesh and not be a hodge podge of development with no services.
I believe that comprehensive planning is essential to preserving agriculture in any area, but these plans often miss a very key element of the community. While growth projection charts, fancy colored maps and zoning ordinances play a key role, the human element of a sense of place is always missing. At some point in each of our task force meetings, someone declares “Why should anyone tell me what to do with my land, we have been here for X amount of years.”
The average American moves every 5-7 years. While there are no figures on how often a “farmer” moves, I gander it is much less (Once to the farm and then to a retirement home). Our heritage is deeply rooted in where we are and what we do. Many farms have been in the family for several generations. Farming is a legacy.
A map only shows the topography. When planning it might make sense to put a waste treatment plant in a seemly wide open area. What those plans don’t consider are the current land owners hopes and dreams. Maps do not show the value this land has in a community. Maybe that land is being farmed by a fourth generation, in hopes of passing it on to the fifth. Maybe the farmer has spent thousands of dollars restoring the soil’s fertility, preserving the water-ways, and creating natural habitat for wildlife. Maybe the farmer has been donating part of their crop to a local shelter, so that others can have fresh local food.
When talking to farmers, you hear story after story of people who were born in the same house they now live in. Or the barn was built by family and neighbors over a hundred years ago. Stories of triumph over land, defeat to weather, birth, death, celebration and tragedy. How can anyone who moves every 5-7 years fully appreciate this? How can a map describe the history of the land?
I am thankful that our county is taking a proactive approach to planning. By actively seeking farmer input, the human element can be considered. Our land isn’t something being held in agriculture just waiting for the next development, it is a living and growing piece of our heritage.
Sadly, our land is no longer zoned agriculture. We know that it isn’t if we move, but when. No one is ever really “forced” to sell, but property taxes, eminent domain for utilities and more make it difficult to continue farming in urban areas.
The next time you are driving past a corn field, try not to think of it just as a piece of land but as a communty’s past and future. This is something you will never see on a map.
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