Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Is All the Land Gone?

Urban fringe farming
Three million acres. Three MILLION acres. Yup, folks, that's how much farmland was lost in the U.S. last year. That's about an acre a minute!  Perfectly good farmland taken out of production. Drought and tough economic factors played a large role in the loss of acreage, while pressure to sell land for development in suburban fringe farmland took care of the rest of it.

This is not a new trend, either. In the last 30 years, the US has lost over 92 million acres of farm land, with each state losing a significant amount ( Suburban sprawl and wasteful use of land are rapidly eating up the most fertile and productive land in the nation. Farms on the fringes of towns and cities are at the most vulnerable for development, despite the fact that they produce the majority of the food consumed by Americans, including 91% of the fruits and 78% of the vegetables (  

As our domestic food production decreases due to lost farmland, so must our dependence on imported food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we now import 32% of fruits and nuts and 13% of vegetables. This will only continue to increase as valuable farmland is gobbled up by houses, strip malls, gas stations and parking lots ( Urban fringe farmland, once a good solution to enable a farmer to get their produce to market quickly, is now the most vulnerable land in the US. 

In the East Coast, denser, expanding populations, and smaller farm sizes make it difficult to maintain family farms. Farm land supply is also on the decline in the West, and while big, open spaces are still available for farming, the land is not prime farmland, and is less productive. This sub-prime farmland uses a larger portion of natural resources than prime land when it is farmed, and requires more water and irrigation to grow less crops. In California, farms are being destroyed even more quickly than on the East Coast, with one in every six acres being paved over from 1990-2004 (

Wasteful land use is the problem, not development itself. From 1982 to 2007, the U.S. population grew by 30 %, while during the same time period, developed land increased 57% ( Many farmers and environmentalists call smart growth the solution, which Julia Freedgood, managing director of Farmland and Communities, of the Farmland Trust, describes as smarter urban planning: "What we need is to actually to have better cities, more livable cities, tighter-knit communities, more compact development, make more land available for farming so that we can feed more people ("

An increasingly common scenario in the US
Stephen King, a professor at Western Kentucky University specializes in agriculture economics, said that the loss of farmland follows a cycle. As cities grow, the price of land around the urban area increases, until eventually it becomes in the farmer’s best financial interest to sell the farmland. Then, the farmer must either move further away from the city to start the process again or pull out of the business entirely (

Pulling out of the business entirely is what many farmers do after selling their land. The number of farms has fallen from 7 million in 1935 to about 2 million today. Less than 1% of the US population claim farming as an occupation, and less than 2% actually live on a farm. The average age of US farmers is also rising, meaning that the younger generation is leaving farming as a profession. This does not bode well for farming in America (  
Our world's most important resource is being rapidly and needlessly wasted. Less than one-fifth of U.S. land is high quality, and we are losing this land to development at an accelerating rate. U.S. agricultural land provides the nation, and the world, with an abundance of food. But farmland means much more than food. Well-managed farmland shelters wildlife, supplies scenic open space and helps filter impurities from our air and water. These working lands are needed to maintain the legacy of our agricultural heritage, and to continue to feed the world. We ALL have a great responsibility to protect this most valuable resource for future generations.

How can you help? Go to to get a free bumper sticker, and then sign the petition to urge your lawmakers to protect local farms! Also, 7 ways to Save Farmland:, include buying produce at your local farmer's markets, staying up-to-date on your state's agricultural news, and contacting your state and national representatives to let them know your concerns. If we all take the responsibility to save our farmland, then our country does have a chance to preserve our farms and protect our food supplies!

Buy produce here during the summer, not Wal-Mart!

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