According to the American Farmland Trust, approximately 175 acres of farmland in the U.S. are lost to development EVERY HOUR! Picture a strip mall, where a Home Depot, Lowe’s or Walmart is located. Those strip malls are between 50-200 acres. In a large majority of them, a farm used to be there. If we lose all our farmland to development, where will we grow our own food? This is a State Department concern – food security. Somehow, we need to support local farms, pay the real price it costs to grow healthy food, and stop selling and developing our farmland.
Now my farm is just one more statistic of the farmland lost every day. I was a farmer at Stone Coop Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm in Brighton, MI from 2011 until November 2018. My business partner has decided to sell our land. There are four subdivisions going up all around us and our property is zoned residential. There are over 1000 single family homes being built less than a half mile from our farm.
Our last farmers market was on Saturday, November 24, 2018. It was tough laying off my staff and saying good-bye to my customers and my community. But for the past month I have been focusing on the logistics of closing a business and trying to define what the nonprofit portion of our farm will look like in 2019 and beyond. I am great at seeing opportunities and possibilities at every situation thrown at me, so that has been where my brain has been for the last 4 weeks.
Recently I had to walk the real estate agent around the farm. I had to show and explain how things were built, where the underground utilities and water lines are located, the idiosyncrasies of the heaters for the bathroom and office, why the motors on the hoop house sides were broken and why we chose not to replace them. I also had to listen to talk about selling the hoop houses, renting the farm house as soon as we move out, building homes in our wonderful wild meadow and on our farmland, and how our barn would make a great home or studio. Monetarily, our farmland is worth more as a development.
I understand the needs of my business partner to get some of the money back for all the investments he has made over the last 8 years. But for me, this place was never about the money. It was about the vision, the place, the community, the positive energy, the people. Shouldn’t there be places on earth, shared and enjoyed, because they are needed? Why does financial value seem to always win over everything else? In the last 8 years, Stone Coop Farm has changed our community, our county, and our planet for the greater good. We not only grew incredible food, we also provided a safe space for everyone: old, young, disabled, healthy, weak, strong, rich, poor, straight, gay, Democrat, Republican, religious, atheist. We were here to make a difference, to make the planet a better place, and to enjoy each other’s company. That will be the biggest loss of this farm, our community.
I walked around the farm, giving the tour and remembered that my husband and sons built the pavilion. My husband fell off a ladder during that build and broke 3 ribs. My family of four was living in a travel trailer on the farm for six months at the time and we had to try not to make him laugh while his ribs healed. My entire family and many, many friends, helped me build this incredible place. My family gave me thousands of hours of their time to help me at the farm. They gave up weekends and vacations, so I could be here. I know every inch of this place, all 30 acres. I designed the layout for the farm, the root cellar and floor plan for the farm house, the work flow for the barn and spaces for events. I had a long-range vision of what this could be. So many memories. I created a nonprofit in 2018 so we could buy the farmland and put it into a farmland conservation easement to ensure it would be a farm forever. I had hoped that one day I could retire and pass this place on to the next generation of farmers. It has been difficult to pack up all my belongings and leave this way.
So, here’s my plea. Search out local farms in your area. Do an online search or try www.localharvest.org Buy food, produce, milk, meat, eggs, etc. directly from these farms. If you have land, lease it to a small beginning farmer because they will take care of the land, not destroy it. Buy food that is in season for your area. Support farmers markets and talk to farmers to find out if you can visit their farm and to learn more about their growing practices. Many farmers markets allow wholesalers to sell produce and act like a farmer, so talk to the vendors and verify they actually grew it. Many of these wholesalers see the prices that the real farmers are charging, then undercut those farmer’s prices. Educate yourself by visiting farms and/or growing your own food. Don’t quibble on the prices the farmers are charging, it probably doesn’t even cover their costs to grow that food. Over 60% of U.S. farmers work a second job to support their farms. They need our help. Don’t let our local farms and food systems die.