Monday, January 14, 2013
Farms need Farmers
Speech to Grants Pass City Council, January 5, 2011
When I first lived in Grants Pass, from 1985-’87, there were blueberry and strawberry U-pick farms on the South edge of town. When I came back in ’99, they were gone. The owners had passed on and the land had been built over with houses and stores.
In a normal state without Oregon’s land use laws, those farms would have been replaced by other retirees doing U-pick farming to increase their retirement income. But the size of parcels that lower-middle-class retirees can buy and are willing to farm, 5-10 acres, are not being created because of land use regulations.
If not for those laws, Naumes would have cleared out their orchard and split it into 5-10 acre parcels for sale to would-be small farmers, among others, or sold it to a developer to do the same. But they couldn’t; they had to sell it in parcels no smaller than 80 acres. No farmer was about to take on the cleanup of that orchard, so Naumes sold it to city slickers who didn’t know what they were getting us into. Now, we have to clear out the orchard on our River Road Reserve before we can do anything else with it.
The presentation of the City’s and citizens’ plans for that land was interesting; the most eye-opening part was the map of Grants Pass and the River Road Reserve with City properties highlighted; next to the city properties, the Reserve is immense. Staff and citizens recognized that in reserving large blocks of it for farming, and even pear orchard.
But farming takes farmers, and you have the same problem Naumes did; no takers for large parcels of farmland. People with the money for 80 acres or more buy land in states where it is not forever reserved for farming. The most that you might be able to do is lease it for a song, just to keep the land maintained and producing something besides weeds.
Or, you can restore what Grants Pass has lost; small farms on the edge of town. Please ask the County and the State for a variance to break up most of that land into 5-10 acre farms. There is good reason to believe that the state is ready to be more flexible. You can put covenants on the property that it always be used for farming.
We would have a better argument if we confine our park to the 50 acres nearest the river and existing housing. You can use those small farms as buffer between the City’s park and larger farms farther out; this is one factor that the Rural Area Planning Commission has to consider.