8 AGRARIA JOURNAL 2022 BY BROOKS LAMB Roughly twice a week, I look for a new home. I open a tab on my computer, type in “farmland for sale in Tennessee,” and punch the “Enter” key. I navigate to a few reputable sites and set the filters, searching for the kind of place my wife and I dream about. Maybe we’ll find an affordable place not far from my family’s farm in Middle Tennessee, I think. Or maybe we’ll find a small farm in a rural community outside of Memphis, a city my wife and I love. Possibility abounds. Excitement builds. I begin to envision Hereford and Shorthorn cattle dotting our very own hillside. I picture a healthy garden. I imagine the work we’d do to be good stewards and community members. Then I start to scroll. Sometimes I get a good hit, and my wife and I click through the photos provided. More often, we see versions of the same encouraging-then-dismal description. “This is a beautiful 80-acre parcel with a nice mixture of open fields and woodlands. It’s not too far from town. This is a great little farm.” Then: “Or instead of farming, you can buy and then subdivide the land.” Picking up steam, the listing continues: “This is an excellent development tract in a desirable area. Don’t miss this investment opportunity! ” Along with the sky-high, prohibitive prices for good agricultural acreage — prices driven in part by the prospects of turning farmland into subdivisions and strip malls — the charge to take advantage of development opportunities rattles me. The exclamation point at the end makes my stomach churn. It comes across as a warning, as if the land will be wasted if it isn’t transformed. That’s what market forces tend to suggest, but I question the short-sightedness of that logic and fear where the broad sacrifice of farmland is leading our nation. To be sure, we need places to live and work. We need places to shop and play. Development is not inherently a bad thing, and growth isn’t bad either. When done well, both can be beneficial. But when done haphazardly, rampant real estate development and rapid growth hurt rural places. Ignoring the warnings of conservationists past and present, these forces treat land as a commodity to be traded rather than a community to be tended. American Farmland Trust (AFT) — a national conservation organization where I’ve now worked for a little over a year — recently released a new report describing how farmland loss could impact communities across the country over the next two decades. “Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing an Abundant Future” outlines three different development scenarios that could shape America’s agricultural landscapes. The first projection assumes development will continue at the current rate, or what AFT’s researchers call a “Business as Usual” approach. The name sounds benign, but this situation spells real harm. If we don’t change course, roughly 18.4 million acres of agricultural land could be converted or compromised by 2040. That’s an area almost equal to the size of South Carolina. The report’s authors call this estimate conservative, making the projection even more troubling. Where Will We Grow? FARMLAND LOSS AND INEQUITABLE ACCESS THREATEN OUR COLLECTIVE FUTURE REGAN ADOLPH LAMB Brooks Lamb on his family’s farm in Holts Corner, Tennessee.
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