I was little when we lost our first farm to development. It was a field we rented a couple miles down the road from the home farm. It wasn’t the highest yielding land, and certainly not the biggest field. But we were all upset because it felt like such a waste.
We had cleaned it up, taken care of it, and invested in it for a number of years.The landowner could get more money selling it to a developer though, so that’s what he did. Even after all those years, every time I drive past I remember.
But developing farmland is actually pretty common.
According to American Farmland Trust, the numbers are staggering. New development occurs on farmland 62% of the time. Between 1992 and 2012, the United States lost nearly 31 million acres of farmland. That amounts to 175 acres every single hour, or 3 acres every minute. Worst yet, 11 million of those acres were among some of the best farmland in the nation, classified as the most productive, most versatile, and most resilient land.
Once farmland is developed, it can’t be undone.
Of course, when I was looking for my new house I wasn’t even thinking about urban sprawl. It was a tough market for buyers, so I was super excited to find a newer house out in the country. I knew I would feel comfortable there. I knew Mischa would feel comfortable there. I enjoyed that we had a corn field as a neighbor.
It wasn’t until after I moved in that I realized our subdivision was likely a former field. My suspicion was confirmed when I met a friend from the area. Her grandma lives in the first house next to the subdivision, and her mom remembers picking strawberries where my house now stands.
Being on the other side of this equation gives me a little bit more perspective.
I love my house. I wouldn’t give it up or wish that the farmland was never developed. While we should be concerned about urban sprawl and losing high quality farms, we also have to balance that with the fact that people need housing. We can’t expect that everyone not living on a farm is going to live in high rises or closer to the city.
But I would still die inside if our farm was ever developed.
So the answer lies in some of the tools we have available to protect our precious farmland. Conservation easements, for example, allow farmers to essentially “sell” the development rights to the property back to the government. And our zoning laws should work to protect the most productive farmland, while developing less protective areas. We can also find new ways to incentivize keeping land from being developed.
After all, no farms, no food.