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Agricultural urbanism vs farm-eating sprawl

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  • Christopher Miller
    Some material today on agriculture and urbanisation. The overall thrust argues for making urban and rural development complementary rather than antagonistic;
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2009
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      Some material today on agriculture and urbanisation. The overall
      thrust argues for making urban and rural development complementary
      rather than antagonistic; some of the proposals described here are
      reminiscent of Alexander et al's "city-country fingers" design pattern
      and the proposal for a "sharp" urban-rural boundary in _Carfree
      Cities_, both of which aim to avoid compromising agricultural land.


      1. A very good article on Treehugger today about agricultural
      urbanism, an approach that constrains urbanism so as to benefit local
      agriculture (and different from "urban agriculture", i.e. using
      urbanised land for garden farming):

      Urban-Edge Communities Can Retain Agricultural Benefitsby Jeff Nield,
      Vancouver, British Columbia on 02.19.09

      We've been reporting on the potential of urban agriculture regularly
      over the past few years. And just yesterday Mathew reported about how
      the UN is promoting organic agriculture as a way to ensure adequate
      and sustainable food for all the world. As developers push for more
      land for industrial and residential developments it's usually farmland
      that gets paved over. Two new report suggest practical ways to ensure
      that rapidly urbanizing communities retain farmland to produce food
      for the local population.

      American Farmland Trust (AFT), in cooperation with Dick Esseks and the
      University of Nebraska-Lincoln has just released a report "regarding
      the long-term viability of agriculture in counties that are becoming
      increasingly urban." Farm Viability in Urbanizing Areas, explores how
      public policy sustains local agriculture and therefore local food
      systems. AFT assistant director, Anita Zurbrugg, explains,

      As agricultural counties transition to more urban land uses, it
      becomes increasingly important to plan for agriculture. This report
      utilizes case studies to exemplify the obstacles in the way of
      agriculture, and what planning tools are available to overcome them.

      The report looks at 15 county level case studies from 14 different
      states, and covers topics ranging from production inputs, marketing,
      farmland protection and outlook for the future. The common sense
      recommendations of the report include support for new farmers, zoning
      to preserve an agricultural land-base, and local encouragement of
      sustainable farm enterprises.

      Farms closest to our cities, and often directly in the path of
      development, produce much of our fresh food� 63 percent of our dairy
      products and 86 percent of fruits and vegetables. Well-managed farm
      and ranch lands provide food and cover for wildlife, help control
      flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds, and maintain air quality.
      "Without local farmland there is no local food, and we've compromised
      a community's capacity to improve its environment and quality of
      life," says Zurbrugg.

      In Janauary, Patrick Condon of the University of British Columbia and
      Kent Mullinix from Kwantlen Polytechnic University published a
      discussion paper called Agriculture on the Edge. Their document deals
      with the issue of urban edge development and the loss of farmland.
      British Columbia has an Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) which was set-
      up in the 1970's to protect the province's food-lands. The original
      intent of the ALR has lost some teeth, with developers often getting
      land "exempted" and thus available for development. This is often most
      acutely seen in the urban-rural edge.

      When lands shift from agricultural to urban uses the land values
      increase substantially. The "lift" in value can be huge, from a
      $40,000 per acre value as agricultural lands to over $1 million per
      acre as urban lands (depending on location and specific development
      In their paper Condon and Mullinix have proposed a solution to the
      continued loss of farmland. They propose a six-part plan to get the
      conversation started.
      1. The province, the region, and its member municipalities might allow
      a particular kind of development, to incorporate agriculture, in a
      band of land (say at least 500 meters wide) at the interface between
      urban and agricultural or preservation lands. Such lands to be used
      for both urban and agricultural purposes in a deliberately integrated
      2. This new band could be rezoned for medium to high density living on
      developed portions. For the sake of this discussion we shall assume a
      yield of 60 dwelling units per net acre, allowing for significant
      return on developer investment. Sixty dwelling units per net acre
      (�net� meaning the number of units per acre on just the development
      parcels) or 40 dwelling units per acre gross (�gross� meaning the
      number of units per acre when roads are included in the calculus)
      would exceed 10 dwelling units per "double gross" acre (�double gross�
      meaning the average density when open spaces and agricultural lands
      are also included in the calculus). Ten to fifteen dwelling units per
      double gross acre is usually considered the minimum density necessary
      to support viable transit service and local commercial services.
      3. Protect, legally and in perpetuity (e.g. via covenant and/ or land
      trust consignment), two-thirds of this land (relinquished by the owner/
      developer) exclusively for agriculture. It may be desirable that
      designated agriculture lands ultimately come under ownership of the
      associated municipality. If it does we refer to this arrangement as
      Community Trust Farming.
      4. Lease (very favorably) these agricultural lands to agricultural
      entrepreneurs and stipulate they be farmed exclusively for local/
      regional markets, thus contributing to the sustainability of our
      communities and to genuine regional food security. Require that labor
      intensive, high value crops/ value added products (e.g. organic,
      direct marketed) be produced and that labor intensive highly
      productive and sustainable production practices be utilized as opposed
      to capital and input (pesticides, fertilizers, mechanization)
      intensive industrial methods.
      5. Relegate the oversight of these lands to a non- governmental
      organization or organizations (NGOs), community/resident associations,
      or professional consulting agrologists under deed restrictions that
      would compel use as stated above.
      6. Endow these lands with funds garnered at time of land sale to
      support local and sustainable agriculture in perpetuity. Through
      Provincial authorization, local governments already exact a
      Development Cost Charge from development projects, as a means to
      finance associated public infrastructure and services requirements
      associated with municipal growth. Per this scheme the local/ regional
      agri-food system becomes an integral element of municipal growth. Thus
      it seems reasonable that Development Cost Charge structures could be
      modified and appropriately used to support the creation and
      stewardship of municipally focused agri-food system components.

      These two reports come from very different agricultural areas of the
      continent, but they both express the importance of preserving farmland
      on the urban-rural edge. Farm Viability in Urbanizing Areas researcher
      and lead author Dick Esseks concludes:
      If we can better understand how to maintain a sufficient land base, to
      promote adequate marketing outlets and supplies of non-land inputs
      (credit, new farmers, hand labor, water, repair services, etc.), and
      to encourage types of farm enterprises likely to be profitable given
      market demand and input constraints, farming on the urban edge is
      likely to remain viable into the future.


      2. Other sites and PDFs referred to in the Treehugger article:


      Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties

      Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties (extremely large .pdf),
      released on December 16, 2008, sought to identify conditions under
      which farming may remain viable in agriculturally important areas that
      are subject to substantial development pressures.
      The report is comprised of 15 county level case studies from 14
      different states, and is arranged into chapters covering production
      inputs, marketing, farmland protection and outlook for the future.
      Some of the key findings and recommendations to emerge from the report

      � Farmers were more likely to be positive about agriculture�s future
      in their county, if they regarded local government as sympathetic, or
      at least even-handed in resolving conflicts between farmers and non-
      � State governments should enable, and local authorities should
      operate, effective programs for purchasing development rights to
      farmland, thereby, either adding to the base that agricultural zoning
      supports, or, achieving what zoning fails to realize.
      � Local governments should apply zoning policies (e.g., large minimum-
      lot requirements, cluster zoning, urban growth boundaries) that help
      to preserve an adequate land base for farming.
      � There are often insurmountable obstacles to young or beginning
      farmers purchasing and renting land, especially if they are not
      related to the current farm owners. Public and private agencies
      should encourage farm families to plan carefully for the transfer of
      ownership and management to their children or other relatives.
      � Public and private agencies should encourage the launching and
      sustainability of farm enterprises likely to be profitable on the
      urban edge and on small acreages� such as high value specialty crops
      or livestock.
      Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties (Full Report .pdf)

      Case Studies:
      Berks County, Pennsylvania (.pdf)
      Orange County, New York (.pdf)
      Burlington County. New Jersey (.pdf)
      Carroll County, Maryland (.pdf)
      Dakota County, Minnesota (.pdf)

      The study was funded by a National Research Initiative grant from
      USDA�s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

      Link to the main PDF report (also available at the URL for this site):


      Related links:


      3. Further web links and PDFs related to the Treehugger article:


      The BC Agricultural Land Reserve:

      No link in the Treehugger article to the Condon and Mullinix report
      and I could not find it on the web, but a related paper is here:

      For those interested in contacting either author to request a copy of
      their January report "Agriculture on the Edge", their email addresses



      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

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