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Maintaining productive agricultural soils has been the basis for the economic and cultural growth of most nation states. In America, however, farmland preservation efforts have gained momentum only fairly recently. For years, the accepted practice was to show agricultural fields and woodlands on land use maps as “white — undeveloped.” The plain message was that these properties were blank slates waiting to be filled with higher and better uses.
Another significant cause of the loss of farmland has been our property tax system, which views farmland in close proximity to new residential and commercial development as the natural extension of the expanding city. It assigns a speculative future value to those sites — and then taxes that speculative increase before it is realized. This tax burden falls on the farm owner. As a result, farmers are often driven to sell their land to speculators.
The all-too-common result has been that as metropolitan centers expand, they not only chew away the farmland, but surround and destroy the life of small farm villages in their regional hinterland. As regional planning pioneer Benton MacKaye showed as far back as the 1920s, this does not have to be the case. Through effective regional planning, this smothering suburban development can be directed to the spaces beyond and between existing rural villages, maintaining their economy and character.
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