A recent guest column in The Gazette (“Zoning exception for cidery comes at a high price,” April 15) throws mud at both the process that led to the conditional use permit issued by Johnson County for our cidery and the direction that the county is taking in promoting viable rural development. The details of our project were laid out clearly both in our application and throughout the very public zoning process and we have met every requirement of the county and the state. Furthermore, contrary to the central tenet of Tom Carsner’s article, we are treading on familiar ground with our new building: the hugely popular Cedar Ridge Winery in Johnson County offers the same mix and scale of food, events and drinks on agriculturally-zoned land that visitors to our cidery can now enjoy. In Linn County, Sutliff Cidery has pioneered the same sort of new agricultural enterprise on ag land. Across Iowa and across the globe, these value-added agricultural enterprises are revitalizing rural livelihoods.
There is every reason to be proud of what we are doing at Wilson’s Orchard with the cidery, what Johnson County is starting to do in their rural development planning and what is happening in progressive pockets of agriculture across the United States. We are a family-owned business and are gratified that our daughter has been able to stay on our farm. She is one of many young people in agriculture who are finding innovative ways to give consumers what we all increasingly want — access to great local food and drink, served up in a quality local experience. Sure there are trade offs. Road traffic goes up. There may be some noise at times. But what are the alternatives? Wilson’s Orchard could become yet another housing development. Ag land can be used for confinement animal operations. Or we could allow a steady drip of new single houses to gobble up farmland as corn and bean farmers sell out. All uses of rural land have implications for the farmers and their neighbors. We have lost two-thirds of the farms in America over the last 100 years. In our own area, there are nearly no orchards compared to six just 30 years ago. Value-added crops and direct sales to consumers allow small farms to thrive, youth to stay on the farm and provide locally-produced food and drink we can believe in.
With agricultural land values in Johnson County approaching $10,000 per acre and corn at less than $4 a bushel, the question is not whether to allow a farm like ours to serve the meat, apples and hard cider produced from our orchard to consumers directly. Instead, the question should be how to encourage these sustainable agricultural practices more strongly across the county so as to promote and preserve farms for future generations. Just saying no to every initiative taken in the county is not a viable plan.
• Sara Goering and Paul Rasch are the owners of Wilson’s Orchard.