As beginning farmers who have just recently found and purchased our land, affordable access to farmland is a topic of immediate concern to us.
At the public hearings regarding the annexation of Spearfish Valley, much of the public comment was regarding concern over development pressure and potential loss of the valley’s treasured open space. In response, members of City Council expressed their views that the development of the valley is up to the individual land owners, not something forced by the annexation. While at a most fundamental level this may be true, the actions of City Council are certainly incentivizing the development of open land in the valley (water mains, higher property values, smaller lot size, etc.). Furthermore, the cost burden of the annexation (connection fees, water, sewer, taxes, etc.) will make it more difficult to make a living growing produce. Additionally, this will inhibit the transfer of working agricultural lands to new farmers in the future.
The annexation plan, as it stands, is essentially a guide for development. The City’s annexation study discusses the infill development of the valley at least 8 times. It mentions options to protect the agricultural lands only once. The City is indirectly facilitating the easy development of the valley land through their annexation report language. We need to incorporate more options for conservation. This may include a special zoning overlay district or conservation easement plans. It is essential that we keep farmland affordable and in operation. A dialogue needs to be started between the City and the landowners in order to develop a conservation plan for Spearfish and the valley area. We need to work together to find a way to incentivize the protection of our remaining agricultural lands
Protecting farmland in Spearfish Valley is important to everyone in Spearfish – not just the farmers working the land. We urge Spearfish to consider the preservation of agricultural lands as a civic duty. We recently read a quote from David Suzuki who wrote that “consumerism has taken the place of citizenship as the chief way we contribute to the health of our society.” Indeed, the pro-growth, rampant development mindset is an attempt towards a “bigger, better” Spearfish. But instead, we might consider more than the immediate dollar and look towards a greater future gain. Preservation of local farmland is an investment in a healthy environment, a strong local economy, and a vibrant, resilient community. As citizens of Spearfish, City and Valley, we should take this opportunity to express allegiance to our ideals, to one another, and to the land. Let’s stand up for our community and future and vote ‘no’ on the annexation. There is too much work yet to be done planning for conservation (and smart development) before we make that decision.
Here are a few resources for us, as a community, to check into:
Why Save Farmland?, a AFT fact sheet
The National Young Farmers Coalition’s Farmland Conservation 2.0
If you have additional resources, ideas, suggestions – please share with us. We are really excited about this and would love to hear from you.