Small towns, open lands and better days.


This morning I wrote a letter to the township where I grew up in Michigan and this is what I wrote:

“I am writing regarding the township master plan of constructing high density mixed residential homes across the street from my childhood home. My parents Hubert and Lynne Winkelbauer have lived there since 1970. My parents raised my sister and I there and started a dental practice in the community. They have been apart of the community for more than 50 years. My parents chose this town as a place to grow roots and live based on the community being rural with open land, nature, wildlife, and the recreational opportunities. My father as a teenager spent numerous summers visiting the area for is plentiful lakes. He found refuge in visiting the area from a much more densely populated suburb of Detroit. When my parents fell in love at the University of Michigan they dreamed of some land to raise animals and enjoy the outdoors. They found that dream home on Bauer Road. I feel who I am as a person was greatly influenced from my childhood enjoying the outdoors and watching my parents do the same. We would canoe, hike, walk, and always be outside on our land. I make my living as an organic farmer and steward of 25 acres in rural Illinois. This career choice was influenced by my childhood and love of the outdoors. I watched the tremendous growth that my hometown has undergone throughout my adulthood. Every visit home over the years I have witnessed loss of wildlife habitat, traffic congestion and pollution, less of a small community feel, and the overall loss of open land. I feel through creating high density mixed residential housing this will only continue that trend causing the town to become a less desirable place to live and raise a family.” 

I think about nature and land daily. I make my living as an organic farmer so nature and my land are always on my mind. If you pick up an organic farming publication you will read about the alarming loss of farmland. You will probably also read about how land prices have skyrocketed and how billionaires are scooping up thousands of acres of midwest farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that 80% of rented farmland is owned by investors who do not farm themselves. This makes it nearly impossible for young farmers to be able to purchase land and make farming a career. I worry about the loss of farmland to suburban sprawl.  I worry about the loss of open land for future generations. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is to these issues. I sometimes get overwhelmed and frustrated about whether or not we are really making a difference on our small farm. We are just a tiny 25 acre dot in this huge vast country. The argument against organic small scale farming is that it cannot feed the world. Sometimes I feel defeated by that concept too. On my worst days I say to myself they are right and small scale farming will change nothing.

But on my best days I say to myself, “I can try damn hard to make a change on my tiny 25 acre dot of land.” Small farms are not meant to feed the world. They are meant to bring healthy land and food to their communities. They are meant to build community and preserve open land. They are meant to create rural jobs. They are meant to treat farm animals humanely and with respect. They are meant to connect us to our roots and spirit. I consider today to be one of my better days. I wrote a letter for my hometown and for those who are fighting to preserve open land in their community. I also watched goats graze on wide open spaces on a healthy farm. Here’s to better days ahead for all.