Guest Columnist

Johnson County rules hamper a return to the land

Kate Edwards tills the ground at Wild Woods Farm in this 2014 file photo. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Kate Edwards tills the ground at Wild Woods Farm in this 2014 file photo. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Dear fellow Johnson County residents,

On Thursday, Johnson County will determine the fate of small farmers. The county currently defines a farm as 40 acres or more, despite the fact that most small farms are less than 20 acres.

My name is Kate Edwards, and I own Wild Woods Farm, an organic vegetable farm in northern Johnson County. Today, like a long line of Iowa farmers before me, I am a tenant farmer. But like my grandparents and great-grandparents before them, I too have dreams of buying land and putting down permanent roots.

In 2010, I left my career in the Twin Cities as an engineering consultant because I felt the call of the land. Despite my master’s degree and my career opportunities out of state, it was the soils of Iowa that I longed to feel in my hands.

It was 2012 when I first learned about the Johnson County Comprehensive Land Use Plan process, a mere two years after it had been written. I was devastated to discover that I had eight long years to wait until the next land use plan would be written that would determine my ability to buy land.

Each week during the growing season, 200 local families are fed from my 8-acre farm. Many other small farms across the state do the same. Small farms are important to the diversity of agriculture and promote opportunity for young people who want to return to the land. This is a part of the heritage of Iowa but the rules of the present prohibit the growth of farms such as mine in Johnson County.

I grew up in Iowa City, just a mile as the crow flies from my farm today. I worked at Wilson’s Apple Orchard as a kid. I care about our Johnson County community, and I want it to be a place that grows and evolves.

That’s why I’m writing to ask for your help.

I have dreams of buying land and putting down roots for Wild Woods Farm, but due to the high cost of farmland, I can only afford 20 acres. That means Johnson County won’t consider me a farm, even though I’m a full-time farmer.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

This is detrimental to farmers like me and goes against Iowa’s state code (Iowa Code Chapter 335.2).

On May 10 at 5:30 p.m. in the Johnson County Administration Building, the Board of Supervisors will take public comment on the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

In an attempt to solve this 40-acre-rule issue, they are currently discussing additional restrictions on young local-foods farmers. This will severely limit your access to local food and hurt the growth and diversity of agriculture in our community.

I am asking the public to come to the aid of small farmers and demand that the county allow small farmers to participate in the land use of Johnson County. Please urge the supervisors to allow farms that are less than 40 acres the same exemption from county regulation that larger farms are granted in state code. Urge them not to place any additional restrictions on us.

Come to the defense of a future where the size and way we farm matters less than our commitment to do it right, together. I urge you to contact the Board of Supervisors and attend the public hearing on Thursday.

Let the land call more of us home.

l Kate Edwards is a Johnson County farmer.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.