I was a young staff planner at NIPC working on the regional plan when, in winter 2003, I went up to McHenry County and asked the Farm Bureau to put a public meeting together to talk about farmland. We assembled a large group for that meeting, which occurred on a really cold night in early February. The Bureau helped me bring out some farmers, while some real estate people also showed up apparently to defend their interests.
A farmer there of long standing in the county, I can’t recall his name, expressed a sense of care for the land, although he acknowledged the land market did not favor its preservation. A real estate guy asserted that nothing should ever stop the land market, and that’s all he had to say. But he had no feel, no sense of the land. A rather vapid guy, I thought. The farmer acknowledged his point, said yes, the market would take farmland to development. Nobody knows markets better than farmers. But there was something deeper in him, a feel for the land, a respect, a belief it should be treated with care, that it’s passing under suburban development would cause a moment of reflection. It was an ineffable sense in him, probably coming of his family’s many generations on the land.
A month later I wrote a little article for FarmWeek called Farmland a resource to be treated with care. Some years later, after my journalism fellowship in Europe, I linked the value of land to the value of good food, and wrote an article for Conscious Choice (March, ’07) called The New Rules of Food.