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Kerry Trueman Headshot

Old MacDonald Had A Subdivision, E-I-E-I-Yo!

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If you're one of those people (like me) who sees sprawl as a malignant growth, you'll be heartened to hear about a new kind of development called a "conservation community." Instead of plopping sterile condos and strip malls down on precious fertile farmland, these visionary suburbs are built around--not on top of--small working farms. A Nation article entitled "Civic Agriculture = Sane Housing," by Nevin Cohen, professor of urban studies and food policy at the New School for Liberal Arts, sings the praises of these sustainable suburbs.

Cohen describes a groundbreaking, or, really, ground-sparing, form of development that creates a neighborhood where farmers and residents can happily co-exist and benefit from each others' presence. Land that might otherwise be paved over and built up remains productive, enabling the farmers to provide their neighbors with fresh, local produce while preserving open space, including ecologically fragile wetlands and prairies.

In an era when only 2% of all Americans live on, or near, a farm, a conservation community gives people the opportunity to reconnect with our agricultural heritage even if they lack the time or know-how to grow their own food. At one such development, Prairie Crossing, forty miles north of Chicago, residents curious about farming can sink their hands into the pesticide-free soil at Sandhill Organics, a small family farm situated in the heart of the Prairie Crossing community. In fact, a quarter of Prairie Crossing's residents have volunteered to work on the farm.

Cohen lists Prairie Crossing's many attributes: "clustered homes, ecologically restored wetlands and prairie grasslands, two commuter rail stations that connect to Chicago, and 154 acres reserved for organic elevated walking trail, above the homes and the farm, enables everyone to appreciate the working landscape as a collective creation."

This farm-friendly style of development is a brilliant way to preserve farmland and still provide needed housing. And it creates a community that encourages exercise, reduces fossil fuel use, and fosters greater connections between neighbors. As Cohen notes, "By integrating organic farmland into residential developments, farming subdivisions give ordinary citizens, real-estate developers, policymakers, and other stakeholders viable alternatives to the current agro-industrial food system."

What a wonderful way to grow! Too bad Donald Trump didn't try this approach with his proposed "greatest golf course in the world," which was vetoed last week by conservation-minded Scots who preferred to preserve the ecologically sensitive sand dunes on the coast of Aberdeenshire where Trump hoped to build "two championship golf courses, a five-star hotel, a golf academy, almost 1,000 holiday homes and 500 private houses". He could have just built around the scrappy salmon farmer who wouldn't sell his land to the Donald for any price. If only the author of Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life could learn that sometimes, it pays to think smaller.

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