To the editor:
How do you put a value on the land surrounding your community? We regularly hear from our neighbors, and see in the media, stories about the extremely high prices land is being sold and rented for these days. But those land prices only reflect one way of valuing land its' maximum productive value under current farm policy and in the current farm economy.
Surely land has a value regarding how much food, fiber or fuel it can produce. And, of course, it has the "top dollar" amount it could bring if sold or rented at auction.
But how else do we value our land? Do you value the land for hunting and fishing? For camping and hiking? Maybe you value land for the memories it provided in your childhood, or how your farm's history is interwoven with your family's history. For some, it's their only retirement plan, and sense of financial security.
I value the land for many reasons. Of course, it allows my wife and I a way to provide an income for our family. But we also love the lifestyle it gives us. And the bountiful, weedy gardens where our kids can pick ground cherries, the apple and cherry trees that are just starting to produce; the place where my great great grandparents dug a hole in the ground and called it home. And we love seeing new farmers, of all ethnicities and backgrounds, moving to our communities to farm vegetables and fruit, or do other creative things with the land.
But what value does the land have to our communities? The land has the ability to support young farm families - the next generation. The land has the ability to support vibrant and growing communities. Care of the land ensures our communities' vitality. So, the whole community has a responsibility to care for the land and decide how we will value it.
We all value the foundations of our communities - schools, local businesses and our houses of worship. If we value these things dearly - and I think we do - should we be putting other values on our land besides simply seeing it rented or sold for "top dollar?"
I am encouraged by an increasing number of landowners who have found creative ways to reflect their values when they transition their land to the next generation. And they receive so much more than just "top dollar" for their life's work. They receive the satisfaction of seeing their legacy continue. They see children once again playing in the old barn. They see the community that they love and live in continue on for another generation. They receive enormous value.
We need more farmers, not fewer farmers. In order for this to happen, we need to start talking openly about what we truly value in our land. By doing this, we can find an approach to balance all of the different ways land is valuable to us, instead of letting only one value dominate the way our land is treated.
I encourage all of us - landowners and non-landowners alike - to talk with each other about what we most value about our land.
I hope you will be surprised, as I always am, at how much we all have in common.
(Batalden, along with his wife Tiffany and their two young children, raise organic crops and livestock near Lamberton. They are members of The Land Stewardship Project.)