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How to Combat Suburbia to Save Sustainable Agriculture

By Ellen Sabina, Justmeans Sustainable Food blog (1/21/11)

  FEBRUARY 1, 2011 --

This isn't anything new: suburban sprawl and residential development is eating up land that was once viable farm land, and poses a serious threat for the growth of sustainable agriculture. Recognizing this, some suburban communities are taking action against residential zoning and development that takes away valuable and revive-able farm land.

In the news most recently, residents of the (not very) little town of Monroe, Connecticut are trying to fight back against development to save land for agriculture. Monroe sits on  the edge of urban sprawl and has not-so-slowly been overrun with high-end housing developments and all the accoutermentsof suburban life. The setting of today's scene is a familiar one: Monroe was once a small town with abundant farm land and active, healthy farms. Over the years the number of farms has decreased dramatically, as the town became a home for city commuters and services. Today the few farms that do exist struggle to keep their land and there is very little chance that new farms can sprout up in the midst of McMansion lots. Land that was once zoned as "residential and farming" has been slimmed to only "residential." Existing farms, and the potential for future sustainable agriculture endeavors is all but squeezed out of Monroe.

However Monroe, like many towns across the country, sees benefit in retaining some semblance of its long ago rural character, and recently updated its development plan to prove it. The updated plan will hopefully prime the town for a new proposed ordinance: "the right to farm." In order to better balance rural and suburban co-existence, this ordinance aims to protect small farms, making it more comfortable for farmers to invest in their businesses, as well as encourage the establishment of new farms. Currently many farmers face complaints from residents who are bothered by everyday farming activities, as well as being very vulnerable to residential developers.

Similar "right to farm" ordinances are already in place in a handful of communities across the country, and it is especially important for towns like Monroe, that are quickly being consumed by symptoms of sprawl to enact such policies. Smart town planning and zoning makes a huge difference in the future of sustainable agriculture. We want local food and agriculture to be integrated and supported in our home communities, and securing land for farming is absolutely fundamental to the cause.


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