Land Stewardship Solutions, LLC

Chickens and Eggs and the Importance of Strong Rural Economies

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Maryland’s agriculture and forestry industries were strong and highly diverse. By the end of the century, both industries were reeling. What happened, and how the agriculture industry is finally rebounding, is described in a new report commissioned by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. that I co-authored entitled “The Future of Sustainable Farming and Forestry in Maryland.”Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 1.39.26 PM

The report describes a number of causes for the huge decline in the industries, during which Maryland lost 60% of its farmland. One of them was suburban sprawl emanating from cities along the I-95 corridor from Boston to Richmond beginning in the 1920s and 30s and accelerating in the 1950s.
Why did farmers sell their farms to developers? Which came first the chicken or the egg? Did farmers sell to developers because they couldn’t resist the price offered or because their operations were no longer profitable?

We do know that farms were already struggling. Canneries were closing. Maryland production of fruits and vegetables declined as irrigation systems expanded in California and chain grocery stores began to aggregate foods from greater distances. Grain industry was replaced by larger operations in the Midwest. The forest industry waned as cheaper products arrived from the Northwest.

The report highlights what has changed since the turn of the century. The rise of the poultry industry has allowed the grain industry to rebound. The local food movement has created hundreds of little fruit and vegetable operations and helped larger operations to diversify. Meanwhile, residential sprawl has slowed in many counties. Maryland’s strong land preservation programs have certainly helped, but farmers are reluctant to preserve their land if they see no hope for the future.

Residential sprawl is very expensive. It causes governments to constantly adjust their infrastructure to the latest residential areas that are growing while older residential and commercial areas are allowed to decay, even as older pipes, roads, and buildings have to be repaired/replaced. Roads have to be widened. Commuters spend more time on the road than with their families.

My conclusion is that strong rural economies are essential for rural and urban residents alike. As long as rural lands are economically viable, owners are less likely to sell for development. As long as older urban/suburban community residents are satisfied with where they live, communities remain successful places to live and their viability continues. The report outlines steps for agriculture and forestry to
survive, even thrive, in the future.

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Eating Local Year-Round

At a recent Sustainable Calvert Network meeting, I mentioned how the local food movement is impacting Calvert County agriculture and how easy it is to eat local, even in the winter. After the meeting, several people asked how Tamea and I eat local. It is easy!Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 6.09.14 PM

As recently as 10 years ago, those wishing to eat local, especially in the winter, would have to grow the food themselves or go hungry. Thankfully, that has changed. Local livestock producers are now selling direct-to-consumer. Local dairies are providing milk, yogurt, and cheese. More vegetable farmers are using high tunnels and greenhouses to produce through the winter. More farmers are supplying root crops (carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc.) through the winter season.

And don’t forget seafood from local waters! In the summer, watermen are regularly supplying customers and restaurants with crabs and fish. In the winter, Chesapeake oyster harvests are increasing – 430,000 bushel last year.

The potential economic benefit of eating local is significant. The average U.S. family spends about 10% of its income on food according to USDA figures. Based on the average household income and the number of households in the Southern Maryland region, the region’s food budget would be roughly $3.7 billion; Calvert County’s food budget alone would be over $240 million. In the region, direct sales of food for human consumption grew 57%, from $2.8 million in 2007 to $4.4 million in 2012. However, that is only 0.1% of the total regional food budget. When we buy from chains, those dollars leave the region immediately and we lose any connection with how our food is grown.

Tamea and I now supply a significant portion of our food locally. All of my eggs, milk, and yogurt are locally sourced. In the summer, I have a large garden and I freeze surplus blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, and pesto for the winter (that also reduces dollars leaving the region). In the spring and fall, I have greens from the garden, and in the winter, I have my own cold frame for lettuce and carrots, plus sweet potatoes stored from the garden.Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 6.08.31 PM

Many of the goods that I don’t grow we get from Chesapeake’s Bounty, an option for those who do not have a garden. Will Kreamer aggregates local foods from farmers throughout the region. And when we dine out, we usually eat at restaurants that locally source some or most of their food.

Most of the bread I consume is made from grains produced locally, mainly from Next Step Produce in Charles County, as are the rolled oats for my oatmeal. Chesapeake’s Bounty also sells breads.

Tamea often varies her menu based on what is at the market. This fall, we discovered how much we love roasted brussel sprouts and green cauliflower from impromptu purchases at the market.

Eating local, not only builds community and creates jobs, it is an adventure!Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 6.08.50 PM

We need a new philosophy about rural lands

In the past few decades, there has been a recognition that residential sprawl is bad for cities and towns, bad for traffic, and bad for the environment. Smart growth programs have focused on preserving farmland, concentrating new residential development in designated towns and cities and improving the design of towns and cities to make them great places to live, work, and shop.

There has been much less care in planning for rural areas—what we want them to be like and how to make the best use of the resources. Many view rural land as just “open space” or, even worse “land not yet developed.” Preserving just a patchwork of farms is not enough.

I have always viewed rural areas as places to farm and harvest timber, as places to fish and hunt, as places where wild things live, and as places where there is an adventure around the corner. That is why I am so saddened to see them abused and their resources diminished.013

Popular attitude about appropriate land uses in rural areas can be attributed to the first adoption of zoning regulations in the 1930’s. Residential zoned areas were strictly regulated so as not to adversely impact the use and enjoyment of neighboring residents. Commercial zones prohibited industrial uses which might drive away retail customers. Industrial zones were developed for tractor trailers and manufacture/warehouse uses on community water and sewer. However, the agriculture zones allowed all the leftover uses that didn’t seem to fit elsewhere, such as junk yards, landfills, and racetracks. They also allowed institutions such as churches, hospitals, post offices, and schools.

The rise of the local food movement has forced many counties to broaden their permitted land uses in rural areas to allow legitimate value-added agriculture uses such as wineries, farm commercial kitchens, and creameries. Many jurisdictions also have allowed agriculture related uses such as horse riding stables and corn mazes. More needs to be done.

However, most ordinances still allow mega schools and mega churches in rura1l areas, which consume valuable farmland and draw students, parents and parishioners out onto narrow rural roads. They still allow the undesirable land uses that create noise, dust, or odor, such as junk yards, landfills, and racetracks. And of course, most jurisdictions still allow major subdivisions which consume even more farm and forest lands, reduce rural economic resources and render waterways as no longer fishable or even swimmable.  The result is a mindless mix of land uses that do not belong together and further feed the desire of the remaining rural land owners to simply sell out to the highest bidders.

 

It is time to plan for the future of our rural areas to maintain the rural character, protect rural economic and natural resources, and create rural jobs for rural dwellers who like that lifestyle.

At Rest in Michigan

What does an avid locavore do when on vacation in upstate Michigan? Look for local food of course!  traverse city lake

But then, you might also wonder why I would wind up in Michigan anyway? That was due to our affiliation with the American Chestnut Land Trust. We invited friends to the annual auction last fall and our table outbid competitors for a treasured week’s stay at a lovely house in Northport, overlooking Michigan’s lovely Grand Traverse Bay.

I am happy to report that the local food movement is alive and well here. Did you know, for example, that you can have cherry salad dressing and turkey and cherry salad sandwiches with your local wine, beer or hard cider? Yes, Michigan is the cherry capital of the U.S. and Traverse City is the tart cherry capital of Michigan, with its National Cherry Festival held each July and its millions of tart cherry trees.

However, it was an aversion to shopping that led me to this bench on a pleasant street in Leland Michigan. I had brought a briefcase full of articles that I had intended to read to avoid holding up door frames along the shopping district of this quaint town with nary a chain store to be seen. Local businesses are well-supported here. You can even find local book
stores!

I was fortunate to fiGreg Bowen.michigannd a bookstore that also sold coffee and I found a nice bench on the shady side of the street. First on my list of readings was a publication from the Wallace Center entitled Food Hubs: Solving Local. It highlighted five of the top food hubs in the U.S. To my delight, Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Foods is one of the best. It aggregates food from more than 150 small farms and distributes to food services, grocery stores and high-end restaurants. As I wrapped up my review of the publication, my friend Bernie Fowler, Jr. called to chat about the progress being made at Farming 4 Hunger in Southern Maryland and his efforts to reach out to farmers for building a food hub. Overall, it was a very nice shopping trip indeed!

Just Like Making Sausage

German aristocrat and statesman Otto von Bismarck is often quoted as saying “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” The same might be said about making tier maps.

In 2012, the state required that counties prepare tier maps which identify where major subdivisions on septic systems would allowed based on state criteria. If this week’s decision by the Charles County Board of County Commissioners is the final decision, it is a good one. However, there was a circuitous path getting there.

As mentioned in a previous blog, a six-member work group was appointed by the Board of County Commissioners to develop a draft tier map. The Planning Commission had recommended what was known as the BGI tier map, but the Board did not adopt it. After hearing the workgroup’s recommendation of a prototype map, the Board asked staff and Maryland Department of Planning staff to prepare a final draft for consideration based on the workshop’s recommended criteria. The following week, three members of the Board voted to modify the map to change 9,000 acres in the Mattawoman Creek watershed from Tier 4 to Tier 2. Now that decision has been reversed.

Though not much has been said about it, the workgroup also recommended changes that would improve prospects for agriculture, forestry and fisheries economies, while improving the prospects for builders to construct homes in designated growth areas. If all of the workgroups changes are made, this might be sausage worth waiting for.

http://www.somdnews.com/article/20140430/NEWS/140439805/1055/commissioners-backpedal-on-tier-map-sewer-area&template=southernMaryland

Workgroup Recommendations Receive Warm Reception from Commissioners

Sometimes it takes a different approach to make progress on a tough issue.  Our six-person workgroup was asked to present a status report to the Charles County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, March 4th, and I was asked to speak for the group at the meeting.  The Commissioners appreciated the efforts of the workgroup and seemed to like the results.

 I am presenting Workgroup recommendations to the Charles County Board of Commissioners.

I am presenting Workgroup recommendations to the Charles County Board of Commissioners.

We were asked to reconvene to try to develop a final Tier map (indicating where major subdivisions are permitted) for the Commissioners to consider for adoption. Maryland Secretary of Planning Rich Hall (and member of the workgroup) indicated that the only minor changes would be needed to comply with state requirements.

Despite its proximity to Washington, D.C., Charles County still has over two hundred thousand acres of farm and forest land, plus 9,000 acres of wetlands. Some of its creeks are the most pristine in the state. The Commissioners have the opportunity to build its agriculture, forestry and fisheries economies, while improving the prospects for builders to construct homes in designated growth areas. Everyone should win with this approach. Stay tuned!

An informative article regarding the presentation can be found here.

Trying to Achieve Consensus in Charles County

Charles County has been working to complete a revision to its comprehensive plan for the last year and adopt a tier map which will determine where major subdivisions may be developed. Things have become very contentious. In January, three members of the five-member Board of County Commissioners voted to appoint a six-member workgroup to make a recommendation on the tier map and on changes to the comprehensive plan. I was asked to serve.

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried. Governing ourselves, with our guaranteed freedoms and regulatory checks and balances, is tough!

So how do governments come up with a ‘Systematic Development of Informed Consent’? This is a phrase used by Hans and Ann Marie Bleiker who have spent their lives perfecting citizen participation strategies. They are the best in the business and have identified over 60 techniques to help governments develop informed consent. Many of these techniques were employed in Charles County by the planning consultant, the staff, the Planning Commission, and the Commissioners during the process.

I don’t recall whether or not a six-member working group is on that list. We will see whether or not it should be. It has been an interesting experiment, and an honest attempt at compromise by the workgroup. We make our presentation to the Commissioners on Tuesday.

Read here for a thorough article with more information on the progress so far.

Hooked!

I did not “plan” to be a planner!  When I graduated from college, I took up farming.  I was oblivious to the fact that while I was in college (of course, deeply immersed in my math books) Calvert County had prepared a new plan, known as the Pleasant Peninsula Plan.  My only civic engagement, when I returned from college, was to join the Calvert County Young Farmers.

When the Commissioners began the process of implementing the portion of the Plan calling for land preservation, Commissioner Bernie Fowler asked me to serve on a committee to look into land preservation options.  I was representing the Young Farmers.  Our committee spent most of the year studying options, developing recommendations, and holding meetings with small farmer groups.  At the end, most farmers preferred that the county adopt a transferable development rights (TDR) program.  Appropriate state enabling legislation was soon passed and we started our program, the first such TDR program in the state.

I really enjoyed being a part of the collaborative community-based process.  I was hooked.  I turned my efforts toward planning.  At the tender age of 23, I was asked to serve on the Planning Commission.  When there was a vacancy, I was selected to serve as an assistant planner in the county planning office.  Over the years, I have been a part of a surprising number of successes with land preservation, watershed protection, and town center planning.  And I’ve learned from the efforts that did not quite work out.

Through it all, I am convinced that with effective community planning efforts we can promote and maintain a successful economy, promote and maintain a strong, safe, and just society, and be good stewards of the earth.