At the Special Meeting to discuss the proposed open pit mine on Rt. 627 in Winchester, I was struck by the term “viable farmland.” One of the Allen Co.’s specialists tried to make the point that the only “viable farmland” is that which produces a profit.
Curious to see where that viability requirement is written down, I searched the Comprehensive Plan. It’s not in there. Nor is it in any definition of farmland I’ve ever seen or heard. Thank goodness, because if profit is required for farmland to be viable, we might as well open pit mine and I-2 the entire county right now.
Farming didn’t used to be this way. Like any honest business filling a market need, farming is inherently profitable. Plus farmers grow the one thing everybody needs! Yet, you don’t see the words “small farmer” and “profitable” in the same sentence these days. Why not?
The sad truth is, because of regulations and red tape strangling today’s small farmers (see FarmageddonMovie.com); because of incentives given to corporate farms and non-local food producers (China can now import chicken products to the U.S. but I can’t make a pie and sell it at the farmer’s market without a $35,000 commercial kitchen and on-demand inspections of my home).
Because Americans have come to expect, even demand cheap food regardless of whether or not it’s nutritious or even safe, America is losing its small family farms at the rate of 220 a day. The great Commonwealth of Kentucky loses 12 farms a week, every week, and has for almost 30 years.
If we intend to eat real food that nourishes our bodies (as opposed to corporate food that has made us the fattest nation on earth, some say the sickest), this rate of decline is neither viable nor sustainable.
If we are truly interested in preserving Clark County’s farmland for farming while avoiding the spectre of dinner plates piled with industrialized foods, Clark County–heck, Kentucky needs to aggressively knock out the barriers to family farmers’ profits.
For instance, allowing farmers to sell what they produce and process at the farm gate with no licensing or inspections would be a huge boost. Other states have done this. Their farmers are enjoying a direct source of income and neighbors are enjoying the bounty of fresh local foods.
Removing arbitrary and restrictive zoning ordinances so that families can afford to live and work the land is another step in the right direction. Even in agricultural zones, the codes are complex, incongruous and plentiful, making improvements a veritable nightmare of paperwork and expensive compliance.
If we don’t get out of the way and allow our Kentucky farmers to farm for a living, one day soon we will be munching on genetically modified popcorn and pancakes from China, because that’s what we can get, surrounded by racetracks, junkyards and open pit mines because that’s what’s “viable.”
1935 = 8 million | 2007 = 2.2 million | 72 years = 5.8 million
102,000 in 1980 | 85,000 in 2007 | 17,000 – 27 | KY loses 629/year or 1.7/day or 12/week