A week ago, I challenged newsroom team members to come up with a personal goal for the rest of 2007. The handout that accompanied my challenge walked each individual through the planning process and even asked him to draw a picture of what it would look like if he was “wildly successful”.
But before you could get to the fun part of imagining success, you had to identify a purpose: Why am I doing this?
Good question. I thought of that question again, as I was driving home from a recent public forum on building a sustainable rural Ohio.
I’ve been writing about farmland preservation and agricultural economic sustainability for a long time, but I don’t know if I’ve ever posed that question to anyone. Why are we doing this? Why do we feel this goal is worthwhile?
Plain and simple, because Ohio’s agriculture – its economic impact and the open or green space that makes up Ohio agriculture – is one of the state’s biggest assets.
“Planning should be about assets,” said Ohio State’s Mark Partridge during the regional forum April 13 in Wooster. Partridge holds Ohio State’s C. William Swank Chair in Rural-Urban Policy.
What are the strengths of a county, a region, a state? Economic development and community planning should keep those strengths, those assets, in mind.
Ohio and Pennsylvania are both located near and house a large share of the population; both have great geographic diversity and beauty – we have mountain or foothills, scenic vistas, lots of water recreation resources and other natural resources.
We have a population that is rooted in Midwestern common sense, friendliness and hard work.
And we have farms. Beautiful farms. Large and small farms. Hog farms and chicken farms. Dairies and wineries. Wide open crop fields and densely wooded tree farms. We have neighbors who grow great food.
Still, we take it for granted. Those farms will always be there.
No, they won’t.
Agriculture is an asset. Wayne County Commissioner Ann Obrecht sees economic value in those farms. And Wayne County is one of the few Ohio counties that believes agriculture is one of its assets and gives the industry more than just lip service.
In Wayne County, agriculture is part of the overall economic development and land use picture. There is an “ag success team” that pulls from production, government and business for ideas to develop, and the countywide economic development office is perhaps the only one in the state to employ a full-time program manager whose focus is agriculture.
“We need to work to retain and expand our agriculture,” Obrecht explained.
It’s a good thing I wrote it down, or I would have never believed I just heard a county commissioner say it. Now, if only we could get more of Obrecht’s peers to embrace the same idea.
The issue of farmland preservation is multi-faceted. it’s more than conservation easements or land trusts. It’s about re-igniting development in the cities. It’s about working to keep existing farms profitable.
It’s about assets.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)