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Saving the Farm: The Fight to Keep Sprawl From Engulfing Rural America

10:15 AM PST on November 8, 2011

On Streetsblog we talk a lot about the effect of sprawl on cities and suburbs. It forces people to drive everywhere, to the detriment of their physical and financial health. It pollutes the air and drains city budgets.

But sprawl also affects rural places, namely through the loss of farmland. Over the last few decades, Americans traded millions of acres of prime arable land for large lots and surface parking.

Claire Thompson at Grist explored the topic recently with an eye toward what nonprofit farmland trusts are doing to fight back:

Between 1982 and 2007, over 41 million acres of rural land in the United States were developed. That’s 41 million acres of potentially productive agricultural land gone forever — because once farmland is ripped up, paved over, and developed, you can never get it back, not in the same form.

“We’ve become a little casual about our attitude about farmland,” said Dennis Canty, director of the Pacific Northwest regional office of the American Farmland Trust (AFT). He’s seen the Puget Sound region of Washington lose 60 percent of its farmland since 1950. Much of the loss occurs around the edges of cities and towns, where the qualities that make land ideal for farming — like being located in a broad, flat valley — also catch developers’ eyes. Suburban development gobbles up para-urban farmland, while land farther out turns into hobby farms or weekend retreats for city dwellers.

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