At a recent voters' forum, candidates answered a question about agricultural land use. Some of their answers reminded me of my service on Horizon 2020's land use task force when a member of the committee suggested that farmers only be allowed to sell their land to other farmers. While initially that may sound like a good idea to those who do not own the land in question, consider this: For many small farmers, like my late mother- and father-in-law, their land is their only asset. Essentially it is their 401(k).
Both of my husband's parents worked at jobs in town so they could afford to live on and farm the 158 acres that they bought after World War II and where they raised children as well as wheat and corn. More than 30 years later, the farm - once far from town - was nearer the city limits than they had ever dreamed it would be. They were no longer young, suffered ill health and had no children who wished to farm the land. But they did have a developer who eventually planned to build residences on the land.
Could they have sold their acreage to someone who would farm the land? Perhaps : at a fraction of what the developer would pay. And because the wannabe farmer had no down payment and could not obtain financing, he proposed that they carry the mortgage. Such a proposal would not have allowed them to purchase the small home in North Lawrence where they lived out their lives frugally but without financial worries. While my father-in-law survived only a couple of years after selling the farm, my mother-in-law lived in town another 30 years, happily growing a large vegetable garden, a yard full of flowers and contributing most of her resources to charities.
The late Bob Billings responsibly waited over two decades before he developed the former Goff farm where my in-laws and husband fertilized the soil with their blood, sweat and an occasional tear. You know it today as the Reserve at Alvamar, Fountain Villa Estates and the south half of Corpus Christi church.
Yes, land use is tricky. And it is the human element that makes it tricky. What seems like a good idea in the abstract often does not appear so good when one considers the impact of it on the lives of individuals.
When a young doctor moved to town and bought a home in far west Lawrence for his growing family, he told me that someone accused him of contributing to sprawl. And I replied that the person who said that was likely living in what had been a cornfield 10 years previously.
Wherever you live, the land was once prairie, forest or farmland. Think about it.