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New Urban Sprawl: integrated farming proposals

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 10th, 2009

Source: From The Soil Up (FTSU) Newsletter

Thomas Boyd_Oregonlive
Image: Thomas Boyd, The Oregonian

From Blurring the urban-rural line in Damascus by Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian

“Instead of saying, ‘Here’s the boundary for growth,’ maybe we should start with the farm first and create the community around farms”

Larry Thompson has always been ahead of everybody else. He stopped using pesticides and fungicides on his fruit, berries and vegetables years before organic became iconic, and long ago eliminated the middleman distributor by selling direct at his fruit stands and at seven farmers markets.  He donated the use of 3.5 acres to Mercy Corps Northwest, which teaches Russian and Cuban immigrants how to farm Oregon-style. He earns ovations at land-use conferences, gladly consorts with government planners and won a Western region sustainability award at the 2008 New American Farm conference.

But not even Larry Thompson has grown a city before, and his ideas this time would turn Oregon’s heralded land-use system on its head. The region’s growth regulators seeded the new city of Damascus on Thompson’s 77-acre farm. In Thompson’s vision, the city can be a place where urban development and agriculture entwine like his graceful marionberry canes. Part of the farm could be developed for housing, he suggests, while he continues to farm the better soil. The farm’s crops could supply an “eco-restaurant” at the top slope of the property. Along the road below could be a fruit and produce stand. Next to it could be a community kitchen and education center where customers could preserve the berries they just bought or learn how to improve their home gardens.

Thompson acknowledges the idea “steps way out of bounds.” Because if it’s done nothing else, Oregon has drawn a bright line between urban and rural. Development occurs within tight growth boundaries; farming and forestry happen out in the country.  Thompson says it’s time to blur those lines. “Instead of saying, ‘Here’s the boundary for growth,’ maybe we should start with the farm first and create the community around farms,” he says. “That’s my intent.”

“All the people are on the bandwagon saying they want to save farms, but the way to do that is to make sure farms are making money,” he says. “This is a way to do that while you develop an area.” Thompson is an able spokesman for urban agriculture. He befriends a neighboring subdivision by letting residents freely walk his property, favors U-pickers because it reconnects them with farm life, and tells anyone listening that making a good living goes arm in arm with being a responsible caretaker of the land.

Thompson has an important ally in Anita Yap, the Damascus community development director. Although Damascus can’t zone Thompson’s land as Exclusive Farm Use, it may be able to treat it as industrial land or open space, zone it residential with an “agricultural overlay” that allows continued farming, or call it “land-based employment” property. Oregon’s land-use system has protected agriculture well for 30 years, “But this is a new city,” Yap says. “Land-use law doesn’t talk about climate change and peak oil” and doesn’t address agriculture in terms of food security, community identity and economic development, she says.

Read the full article by Eric Mortenson.

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