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Pundit’s Mailbag — Green Acres Is The Place To Be?!?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 18, 2007

Our piece pesticide Spraying Gets More Attention brought much response from growers including this note:

It is all about money.

Here in Florida the developers own the politicians and as we know the politicians are greedy for money and power.

In our area of Florida farming has been a way of life since America was discovered and we started out close to the ocean or gulf and are now 25-50 miles inland and now have 5000 homes surrounding us.

Just Tuesday of this week the EPA called and told us a homeowner was complaining that the wind was blowing dirt from the farm into their pool and wanted something done about it.

So it is not just pesticides. It is people wanting to live in the country and then complain that the farms are too close.

Rumor now is that the school board in our area is buying property next to our farm for a future school.

Our country is losing its roots. No country has ever survived as a democracy without being able to feed itself.

We are in for a battle.

— Tom O’Brien,
C&D Fruit & Vegetable Company
Bradenton, Florida

There is something poignant about a farmer, a last holdout amidst sprawl and development, trying desperately to maintain a family legacy.

The various efforts to maintain farmland such as easements and bond issues are like a finger in the dike. They can barely hold back the flood.

How can it be otherwise? Consumers may dream of living in a rural idyll but they don’t actually want to smell an animal.

In fact the only farms likely to survive long-term in those areas where there is suburban sprawl are a kind of Potemkin Village. By coincidence The Wall Street Journal just ran a piece entitled For Sale: Condo W/Chicken Coop that profiled a new kind of development in which farms are sold as amenities much like swimming pools or golf courses:

Catering to Americans’ desire to live “green,” developers around the country are creating communities on or adjoining farms, pitching views of sorghum fields, grazing livestock, and local — very local — food, such as eggs residents collect from the property’s henhouse. The communities, however, aren’t necessarily in the boondocks. Some are in suburbs or near cities.

Bundoran Farm, a community under development in Albemarle County, Va., is offering 100 home sites on a working cattle farm and apple orchard at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. South Village, a project in suburban South Burlington, Vt., was recently approved for 334 homes surrounding a 40-acre farm that will grow corn and other organic produce; Babcock Ranch, in southwestern Florida, is building nearly 20,000 homes surrounded by 73,000 acres that include a cattle ranch and a vegetable farm.

The article claims that the home buyers do have to get used to things:

For city folks, moving to a farm can require some adjustment. Such projects generally have small-scale organic agriculture, such as vegetable fields, chicken coops or a limited number of cattle. Residents must be willing to accept the rumble of tractors, natural grasses instead of a manicured front lawn and land-management activities, such as an annual “prairie burn” in which surrounding fields are set afire to rid them of nonnative species. They may also have to deal with the smells from the chicken coop.

Many homebuyers don’t know what they are getting into:

David Coldren, a 65-year-old retiree, moved to a home on Tryon Farm from a downtown Chicago high-rise several years ago, drawn to the idea of “little houses on the prairie,” he says. But It’s not always the quiet existence of his childhood on a Kansas farm. He was recently hit with a barrage of requests to attend meetings on the most environmentally sensitive way to rid the grounds of phragmites, an invasive plant. When he had guests over recently, he was interrupted by a resident at his door urgently asking for help to free snakes trapped near the community swimming hole.

“If you were planning to come here and sort of hibernate, It’s not easy to do,” Mr. Coldren says.

Many like that these communities are not truly rural:

Developers are also hoping the communities will appeal to buyers because of their location. Even though the farms offer a rural feel, residents won’t have to give up the services of urban life, such as shopping or good medical care. Bundoran Farm is 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville, Va., and Prairie Crossing is within walking distance of commuter lines into Chicago. Mike Sands, Prairie Crossing’s environmental team leader, says the location has appeal for the farmers and homeowners alike.

“Where else can you farm and still get take-out Chinese?” he says.

It appears that this is where we have wound up. It is hard to be optimistic about the future of true farming going on near where there are large numbers of residents.

Many thanks to Tom for his poignant letter.

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