Thursday, January 10, 2013

Farms without Farmers

Speech to the Josephine County Commissioners, 8/18/2010.   

Last week, Commissioner Cassanelli answered my contention that people, not raw materials, are not the true wealth of Josephine County by saying that she thinks that natural resources are our wealth.  But what are farms without farmers, forests without loggers, and minerals without miners? 
A farm without a farmer is a weed patch, slowly becoming forest, like the 250 acres of orchard and field that the City of Grants Pass bought for a song because nobody else wanted it.  If farmland is bought by a retiree with a desire for space but not for work, at best it becomes a hay field, harvested by someone else.  It won’t put food on people’s tables, except by eventually feeding a cow or a horse.
This is what Oregon was supposedly trying to prevent by passing its land use law in 1971, stopping the splitting of large farms into small farms and ranchettes in the 5-10 acre range that retirees seeking space prefer.  But it didn’t stop rich retirees from retiring in Oregon; it simply made them either buy small lots in town or 80-acre retirement estates in the country.  Reducing the number of available building lots in this way has pushed the price of all lots out of reach of many native Oregonians; they can’t outbid rich retirees from California.  Since harvesting hay won’t make the $80,000 a year in farm income that would allow the richer people to build their houses on their 80-acre retirement estates, they plant wine grapes or herbs that can be grown and harvested absentee, and then build their mansions.  They don’t grow food for us to eat.
          Old farmers like Lyle Woodcock are dying out, and younger farmers are unable to buy into farming in this state, because neither farm nor forest can be split, and water rights are restricted on forest land.  There are plenty of other states with cheaper land and less restrictive laws to choose from if one has the money for 80 acres, and if one does not, then one is out of luck in Oregon. 
          What this law has been doing is driving farmers out of Oregon.  If I had realized exactly how ridiculous this state’s laws were, I would not have come here.  I may yet have to leave the state in order to realize my 30-year dream of a 5-10 acre U-pick farm to fund my retirement.   In order to build such a farm here and now, I would have to gather a big enough nest egg to fund my retirement without farming, and then risk it on building and running a farm, which is ridiculous.
          Farmland without farmers will not grow food for people.  People produce wealth with the land; land cannot produce wealth without the right people and their right to use it. 

Published at under Force and Charity.

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