REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – John Glenn’s commitment to community was born in the eastern Ohio hills of his childhood. But his commitment to conservation took wings out in space.
Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth in 1962, also became the oldest person to ever travel in space, when he returned to space in 1998 aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
And it was during his travel through the vastness of space that Glenn recognized the finite well of Earth’s natural resources, including farmland.
A film of air. In space, Glenn looked back at the Earth, with its narrow, blue layer of atmosphere, and realized, “There’s a thin, little environment we live in.”
Speaking Nov. 10 at the sold-out Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit in Reynoldsburg, Glenn said that moment redefined his perceptions.
“I don’t know of any astronaut who doesn’t come back and say ‘we’d better take care of this,'” Glenn said. “If we foul this up, there’s no coming back from that.”
In 1950, the U.S. Ag Census listed 21 million acres of farmland in Ohio. By 2002, Ohio farmland had dwindled to 14 million acres.
Clean Ohio role. In 2000, the former U.S. senator reached across party lines to campaign for Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s $400 million bond program, the Clean Ohio Fund.
Voters approved the issue in November 2000, and funds targeted conservation and brownfield revitalization projects, including farmland preservation.
A total of $25 million from the Clean Ohio Fund is earmarked for farmland preservation through the purchase of perpetual agricultural easements on farms.
To date, 75 easements totaling more than 10,000 acres have been purchased on Ohio farms with Clean Ohio funds.
Dollars uncertain. That $25 million is just a start, Glenn said, as the state funds are leveraged with federal farmland preservation dollars, local matches and donations.
According to American Farmland Trust figures, the $15.6 million Clean Ohio funds spent to date on farmland preservation easements have been linked with $7.3 million in federal matching grants and $16.2 million in local matching funds or easement donations, for a return of $1.50 on each Clean Ohio dollar spent.
Glenn added the next challenge will be to renew authorization of the bonds, a sentiment heard during the day from many of the summit’s speakers, including state Director of Agriculture Fred Dailey.
“We need to look at long-term funding,” Dailey said, and not only on the state level, but at the county level.
“The battle will be won or lost on the local level,” he added.
The current Clean Ohio program money runs out in 2008.
“There’s not enough money, there’s not enough money, there’s not enough money,” echoed American Farmland Trust’s Sara Nikolic, who said Ohio is losing an average of 84 acres of farmland each day.
Ohio needs a local program to leverage the state and federal dollars, Nikolic said, and needs a long-term state program with dedicated funding.
“The road does not end when we get to the end of the Clean Ohio dollars.”
Long road. Larry Long, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, tempered the group’s funding frustration with a look back and a look at what’s next.
“You’ve got to look at this in the long run,” Long stressed. “This is a process. This isn’t something you achieve, this is something you work at.”
He traced current progress back to 1973 when Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment to “Save Open Space,” which provided for farmland appraisals based on Current Agricultural Use Valuation, or CAUV.
it will take a continued work on many fronts to move farmland preservation forward, Long said. He challenged Ohio’s colleges and universities to lend expertise to local group efforts, and urged local land trusts “to do more and do it better.”
A dedicated source of state funding for future farmland preservation programs is possible, along with more county and local funding, but it will take “significant” grassroots support, Long said. That support can rouse legislators and state executive leadership.
The biggest key to developing a stronger farmland preservation base, Long said, is sustainability – developing ways for Ohio farmers to become more profitable, and for farms to be seen as part of community development and economic development plans.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at email@example.com.)
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Dollars earmarked for Ohio farmland policy center
WASHINGTON – Ohio State University will receive $400,000 to create the Ohio Center for Farmland Policy Innovation, thanks to U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
DeWine added the project to the Senate’s final Fiscal Year 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill earlier this month.
The center will develop a land policy laboratory that will work with local governments and area farmers to help preserve farmland.
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