Home > Uncategorized > Chewin’ the Fat Boy: June, 2017

Chewin’ the Fat Boy: June, 2017

By Susan Swan

It’s a glorious spring day—mild temps, warmer than we’ve seen. From my loft office overlooking the 1912 barn and greening fields I see Matt has the forestry tractor front forks on and is bringing compressor, ladder, nail gun and a pallet of shingles to the pump house. Today is that 10’x12’ building’s sheathing and end to advertising Tyvek house wrap as we have for the past year and a half. What must people think passing by? Maybe they imagine it’s another example of farmers getting older; a scary truth nationwide. According to the American Farmland Trust, over 57 percent of private farm and forestland in the U.S. is owned and managed by people over 55. If the next generation isn’t inclined to that lifestyle or working that hard, or if they’re drawn to the city lights, then the 1919 Nora Bayes hit comes to mind. “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?”… A few months back I asked that riders consider picking a place, a landscape they love and see how they might watch over it. That column prompted more positive feedback and sharing of triumphs in activism than I’d have ever imagined, so I’m taking another stab… I live in a really beautiful place. It’s true that beauty is subjective, but I think Teddy Roosevelt was a good judge. In his speech of May 1903, on a visit to the Grand Canyon, he said of the landscape, “The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” So by his yardstick, if beauty is measured by natural simplicity, then the remote area where I live, where the non-built environment dominates, is indeed a thing to behold… Unlike places closer to cities/growth, my rural home is well off the beaten path, sufficiently so that the laws of the state, typical of any Smart Growth-like model, suggests that when there’s no influx of population compelling breakup, and when housing exists to meet the needs of projected growth, there’s really no justification for sacrificing designated farm and forestland. Favorable taxation was bestowed to those holding natural resource parcels nationally beginning in the 50’s. Preferential taxation made it more affordable to retain farm and forestland. The intention wasn’t to boost speculator margins awaiting a housing boom but to spare the forever loss of land for future commercial use, for rural culture, and farming and ranching, for extraction industries like mining and timber harvest. Teddy Roosevelt, in that same speech, took it even farther, saying, “We have gotten past the stage when we are to be pardoned if we simply treat any part of our country as something to be skinned for two or three years for the use of the present generation. Whether it is the forest, the water, the scenery, whatever it is, handle it so that your children’s children will get the benefit of it.”… As you might imagine, I’m a Teddy fan… In remote rural landscapes, where leadership is seldom schooled in planning, business or government operation, less than the best players can attain roles. In such whistle stops, it’s not to say good folks are absent, but that the self-serving variety can sometimes steer the bus, holding up a Bible in one hand and waving a banner of patriotism with the other. Both resonate here. In such places, where a pliable and easily-charmed leadership is seated, where census numbers are lean and shallow pocketed (equals no clout), and a beautiful landscape exists, developers are often drawn; likewise those who make a dime on the former. If regulations conflict with their goals, property rights satellite organizations are formed to rail against any compromise to maximum profit. If they can’t perch a spec house above a bluff or waterway, like Kate Winslet leaning into the wind at bow of the Titanic, it’s grounds for a tussle. Even if the waterway or slope might fail post-sale, it’s the developer’s rights that trump (they say). Land-use law asserts only that “reasonable use” of a parcel is guaranteed as a right, versus maximum profit being the lawful measure. But the slightest compromise can spawn a movement… In my neck, far less than accurate truths were dispensed, regurgitated in written handouts, galvanizing the gullible in fear, then onto socially-engineered outcomes. Demons were made of volunteer boards for supporting such a thing (like the law). Here it was a developer-led movement. The likeable fellow even ran for office, and will again, but struck out on the first swing (in ’12). His property rights group VP ran in a neighboring district, her family in the building trades. She was successful and during her last campaign the developer and his wife were among her biggest donors. Since her reign began, law-abiding planners have been booted and replaced with a real estate broker, a bully developer and useful pawn/proxy. This rural county will eventually be their big payday, but not today… Today the Tyvek, bright white with blue letters, is being overtaken. Rain is coming from the southeast and soon dusk will wash color from the landscape, awakening night stalkers, the big cats, wolves, the bee-eating, hive-scratching skunk… Tomorrow, on our country road, if passersby notice, they might think the farmers on Heritage Lane have gotten some hired help… No, it’s still just us, slowly plugging away.

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