Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Our non-farming neighbors

When you own a farm, there's a set of values that you pretty much hold in common with other people who are farming.  When your neighbors are doing the same kind of thing that you are, there's an understanding that comes from having walked in their boots, and they in yours.  

I've got a neighbor who purchased a large chunk of farmland, and confessed to me that he's a bit overwhelmed.  He leases out part of the land to a local farmer to produce field crops (wheat, silage corn), but won't let the guy fertilize the fields with manure or use some sprays, which isn't by itself a bad thing, but it's a little bit of what I'm talking about now.  

There's this thing we have when farmland borders a city, where it's desirable to, for lack of better term, conspicuously consume farmland.  Take a bunch of productive land and make it into a horse emporium, for instance.  I see a lot of these around here;  I call them the white-fence farms.   While they may fill out a schedule f, they're not about making a profit or producing a crop, but they're more about image.  I must be a good farmer if I have a quarter mile of white fence; the white fence is the important part.  The big house is optional.  Sometimes you see a little house and a giant horse barn or indoor riding arena.    

You can buy this fence from these guys
So in my case, he's purchased 85 acres that used to be leased to the farm that I own, allowing the dairy here to run more cows -- you need a certain number of acres per cow to spread the manure, and the operator here was using every single acre.  But the new owner doesn't like the smell of manure, and doesn't like the cows, and, well, it is his land.   
This indoor riding arena is a couple of miles away
What this does though is limit the amount of land that can be put together to make a working farm, and, in my mind, is a shame.   No one is making farmland any more, and unfortunately, the most attractive parcels for these folks are the nicest ground they can find.  Level, flat, rock-free...  

So I've had animals get out of my fences as I've constructed them, and while I do my best to keep them contained, that's going to happen from time to time.  Anyone who's ever kept animals understands that; and I can't count the number of times I've helped round up someones loose steer or a cow calf or a couple of goats.  

But the residential users just consider this to be a nuisance.   One day I was out trying to figure out how my seeder worked earlier this year; and the wife of the neighbor rolled up in her car and said "hey, your cows are on our pasture!" - and I said ok, but there in a bit, and continued to work on the adjustment so I could get it to a place where I could set it down and chase cows.  And she rolled away 50 feet and then sat and watched me.  I could feel her eyes on me, but I really didn't want to lose my train of thought, and no matter what the cows were doing, I didn't think 5 minutes would hurt.  But as she watched it was distracting; she drove her car up again and said "they are eating my flowers!!  they are by my house!!  come get the cows!!"

So I'm counting to 10 and gritting my teeth and I said "I'm going to finish up right here and I'll be over directly, but I may take another 10 to 15 minutes" and she was astonished.   I finished up and and I  put down my stuff, and I walked the .25 mile to where the cows were -- hundreds of feet from her house, eating the grass in a pasture, and I shooed them back over to my fence, and closed the gate someone had left open.  
What was different was that a farmer would have just called me from their kitchen (my cell phone was in my pocket) and I would have said be there directly, and 15 minutes later I would have been.  For a farmer, cows eating grass isn't an emergency.  You don't cry wolf.   Yes, she's right that my cows shouldn't be on her land.  Agree.  But her assumption that I was going to drop everything and sprint over to save her grass seemed a little excessive.   And I still don't know who left the gate open.  Meter reader maybe; although we had a little talk about that already.  

Everything is an emergency with the residential folks.  A piglet is out messing around on the side of the road?   Horrors!  A cow is eating their grass?    Unforgivable!   Heaven help me if the sheep get out.  

This particular neighbor had the same sorts of conflicts with the previous owner of this farm, and his idea was to surround his property with evergreen trees, spaced 2' apart.  500 or 600 of them along our property line.  That's not a choice a farmer would have made.    How about a darned fence, Vincent!  Or a gate!  those trees don't stop anything.  

It's a different mindset.  The fellow that owns the property mows his driveway and yard more than any human I've ever seen.  three times a week sometimes.  He offered to mow my yard, and I said "why on earth would i waste good grass by mowing it?  The sheep will clean that right up and I get to eat the sheep"  He laughed, but it goes to illustrate that we are coming at the same issue from a completely different place. 

Snohomish county has had a lot of this sort of conflict as it transitions from a farming powerhouse to a bedroom community for boeing and microsoft and amazon.  So many that when you buy land that is either zoned agricultural or next to land that is, you have to sign a notification about the land you are buying.  

The hope and aim of this sort of disclosure form is that it will eliminate or reduce conflicts between normal farming activities and residential uses... and I'm sorry, but if your riding arena viewing area is nicer than my living room, that's a residential use. 

So in my case I grit my teeth and build the fencing, but I know that it's just a matter of time before something gets out, or something isn't to their liking -- wait until this summer when I'm emptying the manure lagoon, for instance -- and I'll have more education to do.  


Steve said...

I find it interesting that these "new" landowners don't have the insight to realize where their food comes from the land they complain about.

Across The Creek Farm said...

In Arkansas, chicken houses help to keep the city-folk at bay

paul said...

back in September we had a major wind storm one night. it damaged some fences and as a result I was greeted with loose pigs the next morning. an officer stopped and helped as well as a neighbor. More than three months later I get a summons for criminal negligence for allowing my livestock to run at large. There was no damage and it was only the third time in over five years I have had animals out. I have helped at least three neighbors retrieve animals during that time.