Contemporary Issues: Development and the Future of Farming

The farm land is being reduced. And probably one of our biggest challenges is finding ways for people who have been reared in the cities for so many generations or decades to appreciate that yes, they might want to live in a pastoral setting where they can look out across the lovely fields of waving grain or something, but when the neighbor starts spreading manure on his fields to fertilize the ground so that he can have a good crop next year, the aroma may not be conducive to what the new homeowner likes. . . You have farmers who feel like their land is being taken away from them and they have no recourse because they cannot afford to pay the prices for land that land developers pay. And you have walls being built, at least in people's minds between the two populations. . . So, we have to come up with viable ways of preserving and conserving our natural resources, our natural land, our heritage, our traditions, as well as making allowances for a population that is still growing. . . There has to be a saturation point eventually and once that point is reached, you can't go back and reclaim that land. It's been rendered useless in regards to what can be grown there. ~Larry Hall, OSU Agricultural Extension Agent, Knox County

While farming today is characterized by changes in technology and shifting economic security, it remains an integral part of community life and a defining attribute for the families it involves. Darel Hathaway, a Knox County farmer suggests that for his family, success in farming is due both to their commitment to an agricultural lifestyle and to their ability to actively sustain change. He relates, "[w]e have made up our minds that we want to be part of that opportunity [in agriculture], so we'll adapt and adjust to whatever it takes to continue in this business."

Getting Bigger

American agriculture is a bundle of paradoxes. The trend toward industrialized agribusiness is changing the cultural institution of the family farm. Whereas family farming is characterized by an owner-operated, entrepreneurial, diversified and family-centered way of life, industrial agribusiness is by definition, markedly different. The operation of corporate farming is relies on being industrially organized, financed for growth, specialized and management-centered. Moreover, the trend toward industrialized agriculture is accompanied by a gradual degradation of natural resources; stewardship and conservation are now largely determined by the market rather than by the farm family's need to survive from year to year or from generation to generation. Furthermore, due to the rise of the American Agricultural Movement in the late 1970s and the farm crises of the 1980s, family farming is falling prey to the transformational nature of modern agriculture: the bigger, the better. The irony of the farming dynamic is implicit in its new design. The technologies that are environmentally destructive and which are rapidly being accepted by small farmers in an effort to "grow" and compete are the same technologies that both accommodate industrial agricultural systems and threaten the very survival of the family farm system as we know it.


The absence of full-time farming coupled with increasing interest by developers to build on available land is creating a conflict of interests in Knox County. Community action has found a place in Knox County and the hot topic of the day, carefully called "land use," is being discussed in a myriad of public forums. Perhaps, one of the most notable of these is a recent community- wide conference sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce entitled Focus 2100. Initially, Focus 2100 was an effort to formulate a new development consensus for Knox County. The plan called for community planning: one two hour brainstorming session involving interested parties for the purpose of proscribing discussion topics for a later, more narrowly focused planning session. The November focus groups considered six topics: Land Use and Environment, Transportation, Economics as it relates to Industry, Economics as it relates to Service, Culture and Society as it relates to Institutions and Culture and Society as it relates to Attractions. The groups selected aspects of each topic they felt needed significant improvement and those which deserve attention for their effectiveness. On January 20th, nearly 200 Knox County citizens met to discuss issues relevant to them. While similar in design to the earlier visioning, the community conference was designed, according to the executive summary published by the Chamber of Commerce, to: "establish a shared vision for all Knox County citizens--with open, complete communication and mutual participative planning and shared decision making for creative growth and development. All identifiable constituent groups were contacted by mail to inform them of their vital participation, and an open invitation was extended to all Knox County citizens through the local newspaper, radio, and various service clubs. The conference concluded by identifying the following goals as the top three community goals for Knox County:

1. Develop county-wide land use mission statement and plan to protect/preserve our rural and community character- to be updated every five years

2. Improve Knox County education to emphasize functional literacy, thinking skills, job- entrance skills and life-long learning.

3. To enhance, encourage and promote economic development and quality of life, our transportation goals are:
a. Lay the ground work for improved road access, traffic flow, and public safety by:

b. Commissioning an in-depth traffic flow study of Knox County roads by:
counting cars and trucks, determining destinations--in relation to where they live, eat, work, play--by being done over a period of time and seasons, by including long-range planning information from businesses, hospitals, etc., by developing a win-win county-wide and regional support for short and long-term plans, to ensure an efficient and effective transportation flow, in, to, and through eventual connections to I-71 and I-70, and by reassessing residential parking regulations for the purpose of reducing travel time by fifty percent given double the traffic volume.
Following the Community Goals Conference, the Focus 2100 Committee is initiating, developing, and promoting the establishment of ongoing committees that will move forward to deal proactively with these three community goals for Knox County."

Essentially, such a plan empowers community members and if used appropriately, gives voice to all those involved. Perhaps due, at least in part to the growing awareness of community members about the threat developmental sprawl poses to rural life, recent attempts at creating sub-division housing in Harrison Township by land developers were thwarted. Those opposed to the developments were farmers, interested in protecting their means of subsistence and nearby residents who contend that rapid growth will negatively impact the rural atmosphere they have long cherished.

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