Sunday, July 8, 2007

Action Alert!

My then-fiance, now ex-husband and I bought the house at the farm, sitting on a little over an acre of land shared by another house, when I moved to Lawrence in 1994. A year and a half later, in November of 1995, we bought the 10 acres of farmland behind the house. It wasn't exactly in our plans, but either we bought it, or it would be sold to a developer who would put a warehouse on it, the driveway running right along side our house across our land.

The 10 acres, like most the land around it, was zoned for industrial use, although there was no industry in the neighborhood--just agriculture. We went through a lengthy process to have it rezoned "Agricutural" to send a clear message to the community what our plans for the land were.

We bought the land knowing that someday the question of annexation against our will would come up. Having bought the land to preserve it from development, I vowed to defend it to the best of my abilities should this issue arise. To preserve the land's right to be a farm. To keep it free to grow things, including livestock. To prevent it from being paved. To keep it free of the tyranny of the "no weeds over 12 inches" and other restrictive city regulations.

I've watched many development situations in the neighborhood, and had input wherever possible. I've successfully challenged illegal floodplain filling, and insisted that a stormwater retention pond be enlarged to prevent increased stormwater from a small housing development from flooding my pasture.

These have been the little practice sessions for the big one.

Here comes a big one.

A large landowner to the north is proposing a 900 A industrial/retail development north of me.

The Downtown Lawrence Farmers Market newsletter included this Action Alert:

"Educational Meeting on Proposed Business Park

There will be an educational meeting on Wednesday, July 11, at 7 p.m. at Grant School regarding the proposed development of 900 acres of farm land into industrial use -the Pine Family Farm, 300 acres of K.U. Endowment Land which is currently farmed, and about 20 home owners' properties. A representative of the city planning department will be present to teach us about the development process--and what, if any, recourse we have to step into the process.Here are links to information on the proposed development: with information from Roger Pine and the developer info on Lawrence Municipal Airport's concerns

Pinwheel Farm is the lowest area along the Maple Grove Tributary that drains much of the area proposed to be developed. Additional runoff from impermeable surfaces anywhere north of the farm will increase the likelihood of flooding. Some may say, "It's just pasture". But if the land is wetter longer, a certain variety of snail may start to live there. And that snail is a host to an internal parasite, a liver fluke, that is difficult to treat even with chemical wormers, and can kill sheep.

But a more serious concern is the likelihood of forcible annexation, since Pinwheel Farm lies between the current city limits and the proposed development. Annexation under current city codes would have dire effects on Pinwheel Farm's ability to BE a farm, on my ability to operate the farm as a business, on my ability to pass the farm on to future generations as a working farm, on my ability to get financing for improvements to my farm business. It would prevent me from having my own drinking water well and septic system, and force me to pay exhorbitant fees for connecting to and using city services that could then be shut off (and my house condemned) in order to punish me for infractions of city regulations designed to micromanage my lifestyle. Regulations that I never had a chance to vote on because I didn't live in city limits when they were put in place.

But it's about a lot more than just "my" farm or my personal lifestyle. It's about food security for the City of Lawrence. Many of those 900 acres are currently producing food or fuel (i.e. corn). It is some of the best agricultural land in the WORLD. As I have proven on my land, it is land that can grow food without expensive fossil-fuel-powered equipment and infrastructure. Once it is paved, it would be very hard to reclaim for agriculture. As gas prices rise, more food needs to be produced locally. "Peak oil" is looming in our near future. We need to keep our options open for local production.

Why is Pinwheel Farm important to people who don't live here? Because Pinwheel Farm has been exploring ways of producing food without purchased chemicals, fossil fuel tillage, or irrigation. In other words, ways of producing food that aren't dependent on the current infrastructure. Ways of producing food no matter what happens. Pinwheel Farm is about teaching those skills to others, to encourage local sustainable food production. Pinwheel Farm is especially valuable because it is accessible from the City of Lawrence without use of private automobiles--as gas prices increase, people can walk, bike, or take the city transit but to get their locally grown food here, and to learn how to grow their own.

I implore anyone who cares about sustainability in general, and about Pinwheel Farm's future, to get involved NOW. Attend the meeting if you can. Get informed. Speak out. Call City and County Commissioners. Write letters to the editor. Get your friends to do the same. Keep the farm, and the people working to preserve it, in your thoughts and prayers. Every bit counts.

And I'll keep you posted.

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