As part of our work to help beginning farmers gain access to farmland, the Land Stewardship Project has been working with the Plainview Land Access Organizing Committee in southeast Minnesota. For the past two years, farmers, business owners and others in the agricultural community of Plainview have been meeting to raise awareness of issues beginning farmers face when it comes to getting established on affordable land. This committee is seeking changes that will create a new reality of more beginning farmers farming sustainably on the land.
A key member of this committee is Dean Harrington, a retired banker and LSP member-leader. Dean realizes the value of farming and the diverse landscape that supports a healthy community. He recently wrote a commentary outlining why he believes even non-farmers such as himself should care about the presence of diverse, sustainable farms in the community:
I’m not a farmer but I am a life-long member of the farming community of Plainview and it’s easy for me to appreciate the immensely valuable benefits of the kind of farming (diversified and owner-operated) that has dominated in our area.
I’ve lived in Plainview all of my adult life (including 40-plus years in business) and below are some (and certainly not all) of the benefits a community of vibrant, locally-owned farms has given — and continues to give — to me:
• Friends and fellow-citizens who tend to be deeply involved in our community. Farmers who both live and farm in our area tend to be interesting and independent-minded people and have a deep sense of responsibility for our community.
• A more stable local economy. While farming is always an uncertain business, the diversification of area farms spreads the risk, not only for individual farmers, but also for our local economy where diversity of income means more resilience and ability to absorb economic shocks.
• More customers for area businesses. Local farmers are good customers for local businesses and their purchases mean all of us have more goods and services available in our community.
• A good possibility of a vibrant future for our community. Diversified farming with local ownership often leads to another generation of entrepreneurial and energetic farmers supported by the experience, wisdom and financial resources of those who retire.
“You don’t miss it until it’s gone” is an old saying that easily slips in at the end of nostalgic conversations about the past. The phrase is usually a fatalistic sigh about days gone by and things that are (sadly) lost and gone forever.
But when we change that old saying by substituting one word ( “won’t” instead of “don’t”) and make it “You won’t miss it until it’s gone,” the statement takes on a more forward-looking aspect and invites us to think about what is good and useful in the present day and how we had better get to work to encourage those elements into the future.
I know that change is continual and farming is not exempt from it, but I also know that if our community finds ways to encourage local ownership, entrepreneurial skills and diversification of farming into the next generation of farmers, all Plainview-area residents will have a brighter future.
Karen Stettler, a Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings Program organizer, has been focusing on land access issues since 2010. She can be reached at 507-523-2266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.