Farmland and Food: Re-Connected

There was a time when talking about the actual growing of food  as a reason to protect farmland from sprawling development garnered little attention.  To be sure it was always on the list, but values such as wildlife habitat, scenic views, open space and cultural heritage often energized support for protecting farmland much more than any interest in food production.  Chalk it up to the disconnect between what we eat and where it comes from – or perhaps living in a land of plenty, where on average we pay the lowest percentage of family income on food in the world.  Whatever the reason, food production often played second fiddle to the other benefits provided by farm and ranch land.

But things have certainly changed in recent years.  Top-of-mind issues like reducing carbon footprints, hedging against high gasoline prices and promoting healthy food choices among others, have all contributed to an encouraging explosion of interest in local food. This newfound interest has more people making the connection between food (local or otherwise) and the necessity of farmland protection.

A recent No Farms, No Food Rally in New York is emblematic of the wide ranging groups and organizations coming together on common issues around farmland and food.  Organized by AFT to lobby against short-sighted state budget cuts to important farmland protection, conservation, and nutrition programs, the rally attracted farmer organizations, land trusts, farmers market advocates, environmental groups, food co-ops, anti-hunger programs, faith-based community groups and rural community advocates, all coalescing around the relationship between consumers, communities, farmers, food, the environment and the farmland that ties it all together.

On Earth Day, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission released a Local Food Assessment and Plan for Central Ohio with the subtitle, “A strategy for strengthening the economy, ensuring access to healthful food, reducing food-shipping distance, and preserving farmland.”

Similarly, AFT’s Growing Local Initiative works to connect the interest in local foods with the farms, communities and farmland essential to meeting this demand.

The importance of the inextricable link between food and farmland protection was again underscored last week with the release of the 2007 NRI data showing that more than 23 million acres of agricultural land were lost to development between 1982 and 2007.  That’s millions of acres no longer growing the food needed to feed our families, protecting habitat for our wildlife, sequestering carbon and contributing to our rural communities.

Just as consumers are connecting more and more with their food and the farmers who produce it, reconnecting food to farmland is a positive development.

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010.  He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at bwagner@farmland.org

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