By Matt Reese
We had friends over for dinner the other night just as the first signs of spring were really starting to show up in the landscape around our home. They live in town and, as they got out of their car, they commented several times on how much they “love it out here.”
I agree. I love it “out here” too. The old farmhouse we live in has its various issues (as old farmhouses do), but it is surrounded by gently rolling farm fields with a bit of pasture mixed in and swaths of woodlands. The view from our house is great, especially for sunrises and sunsets.
The wonderful view I enjoy brings value to my life, my family and my home. I appreciate it.
Yet, I have never once offered to pay the local farmers who own and manage the land around me for the value of my view. It is those folks who overcome the challenges, incur the costs and take the risks to make my view wonderful. The truth is, my view is worth more than I could really ever afford to pay them, and I’m pretty sure my neighbors wouldn’t take my money even if I offered it.
As it stands, though, there is great risk to the value of my view. I don’t own the land around my couple of acres or control what happens on it. The most common land use in my area is agriculture, and the most common use for former farmland is houses. Sometimes it is just a lot for a house; sometimes it is a large chunk of land for housing developments. That “progress” brings more houses and more non-farm development. I cringe every time I see a bulldozer at work in the neighborhood or a stone truck go by. The new houses are bringing city water and sewer increasingly close to my house (and my view) at an amazing pace. More houses also bring more traffic, more students in schools, more people, more complaints about the agriculturists working so hard to provide the view I love, and less of what I enjoy “out here.” New houses permanently destroy agricultural soils, displace wildlife, drastically alter the local ecosystem, hurt water and air quality, can lead to an economic drain on community infrastructure, and cause countless drainage and flooding headaches.
The sale of farmland for houses is a trend that has gone on for generations in agriculture. Agricultural lands and their great value to the community get buried under driveways, rooftops and basements so more people can live out in the country. It happens all the time.
In terms of my old-farmhouse-in-Fairfield County opinion, if I had a vote on the land use around me, I would pick for it to stay just as it is, without question. If the landowners around me decided the current pleasant mix of cropland, pastures and woodlands was no longer an option for whatever reason, a housing development would be near the bottom of my list of preferences, but high on the list of possibilities for the new land use.
If the owners of the land around me would ever decide to sell the land, though, I have one of the most equitable systems in the history of the world available at my disposal to address the situation and preserve my view just the way I want it: I could buy the land.
In reality, though, my farm writer bank account could never compete with farmers or developers for buying the land to preserve my wonderful, rural view and the great value it brings. If it were up to me, I’d keep things just the way they are. The reality is, though, that my opinion concerning what happens on the land around me really does not count unless I buy it. What other way would you have it?
Beyond the steady spread of houses into rural Ohio, there is a huge debate about rural land use in the state right now with regard to solar and wind development. This is a complex issue with legitimate concerns, benefits and arguments on both sides of the issue. Wind and solar are also a rural alternative to the historic trend of more houses or other types of non-ag use.
When considering all non-ag land uses for the ground around me, I actually think solar would be near or at the top of my list, followed by wind, other non-ag business, warehouses, a few houses on lots, and a housing development. Even lower on my list than housing developments would be things like landfills, waste treatment facilities or an old-fashioned junk yard. All are possibilities and I have no say about any of these land uses if I don’t own the land.
In trying to put myself in the shoes of the very frustrated folks facing wind and solar development in their communities, I can absolutely sympathize. I certainly do not know what the future holds for wind and solar in Ohio. There will surely be some successful situations and some problems, good neighbors and bad, and maybe some of both in the same situation.
I do know, for now, I will appreciate the beautiful agricultural view from my old farmhouse as the wonders of spring emerge. I will also appreciate, support and thank those who are working so hard to provide it to my family and the rest of the community, free of charge.