Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Planning Season

Nope--not a typo. Planning, not planting.

Winter is the season for planning, here at the farm. The whole coming season stretches out before us with the calm expansiveness of the snowblanket outside the window. Anything is possible. A time for dreaming.

This year I'm dreaming big and long, trying to dream enough for a lifetime or two.

Today I let a big chunk of the winter's worth of planning go free, to fly as it will, buffeted by the whims of politics and rumor and economics. Like Luna chasing sticks on the snow, under the stars on a crystal clear COLD night, I have little control. My dreams will come back, but not necessarily at my beck and call.

OK, enough riddles and metaphors. This afternoon at 4:00 I handed my Conditional Use Permit submittal materials to my friendly Planner at the Lawrence/Douglas County Planning and Zoning Department. We've been working on this for about 2 months now, more intensely as the deadline drew near.

I'm sure I could have picked over it and tried to make it perfect for next month's submittal day, but why bother? The public comment period, when neighbors and other interested parties can pick it to pieces, will quickly dispell any notions I have about perfection!

In about 3 months, we'll know the results. Hopefully the staff will understand and support it, the Planning Commission will agree with the staff's recommendations, and the County Commission will approve it substantially as it is, with a few additions along the way as we think of things we forgot in the haste to meet the February deadline, and maybe some tweaks to accommodate the neighbors' opinions.

So what's it all about? Essentially, a Conditional Use Permit is a temporary "rezoning" that allows activities that are not permitted under the existing zoning for the land. There are some surprising things that are not "permitted" on land zoned for agriculture, and there are some funny regulations that have sprung up as city regulators tried to exercise a little prudent control over activities in the county, at the edge of the city. So, legally I cannot camp on my own land...if you aren't a friend or a relative you can't go birdwatching here...and I can't have more than one animal per acre, whether it's a bison or a chicken.

Enough is enough. I need to focus my energy on farming, not continually defending my right to farm, continually explaining to folks that yes, my land IS "developed" from fence to fence, even if it doesn't look like anything but a rather scruffy open field on Google Earth.

Today's submittal asks for permission to allow a very limited number of folks to camp at the farm while they are working here. It outlines all the activities the farm plans to do in the foreseeable future, so that they can be "grandfathered" activities if the regulations become even more restrictive. So that we can invest in our future with the assurance that we will not be breaking the law by holding an open house for sheep shearing (Mar. 20, 10:00).

What's our "foreseeable future"? Most CUPs are written for a duration of 10 years, with a review after a few years to be sure the conditions are being met. That sounds like a long time to many businesses, but for a farm? Goodness, I feel like I'm just getting started after 13 or 14 years! I talk a lot about how my grandmother turned 100 last fall, and I'm just barely over 50, so I need to plan for the next 50 years. So initially I was going to boldly ask for a 50 year CUP.

This morning, an email came through from the Grower's list, which spans both Kansas and Missouri: a request for information about farms that might be celebrating their 100th year of ownership by the same family in 2010. Seems there are already some 7000 (seven THOUSAND) "Century Farms" in Missouri already! I know there are many in Kansas, as well...I know people who run them.

So, why not? Dare to dream the real dream that I've been dreaming all my life. Dare to think that this farm could BE a Century Farm someday!

The CUP asks for a term of 100 years.

I can't do it alone. I don't WANT to be around for it's 100th birthday.

But I will die happy knowing that the land will have the right to be a farm for that long. Hopefully a wonderful, adventurous, happy 50 years from now.

After finishing a big project like this, there's often a period of wandering, drifting, a bit of sadness, a lost feeling. But I don't have time for that this year. I'm leaping out of the frying pan into the fire of another big project: More planning, this time for PLANTING season.

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