Farmland series part 1: farmland and urban sprawl

In Ohio, farmland is being converted to other uses at a rate of 100 acres a day. Typically rows of corn and soybeans are replaced with homes, business parks or shopping centers, urban influences extending further and further into rural areas.

At the corner of Home Road and Sawmill in Delaware county, a red barn and white house sit back off the road. Lush green pasture land hugs the old farm structures. But the days are numbered for this bucolic scene.

Across the street dozens of condos are under construction. The new Olentangy High School is next door, and farmer Roy Jackson has put this 216 acre farm under option for development. As soon as the developer gets approval to build, Jackson’s farm will be no more.

Sitting on a rocking bench on his front porch, Jackson looks out on a neighborhood where once there were farms. Jackson once farmed 1500 acres. At one point he even farmed some land inside the 270 loop. But those days are long gone. To the south, near Canal Winchester, retired farmer and agriculture educator Dick Hummel is going through something similar.

Hummel sold about 100 acres of farmland and bought some new land, 77 acres in eastern Fairfield county. His father had bought what Hummel calls the home farm in 1935 for $100 an acre and Hummel was able to sell it for a whole lot more. Asked why he sold, Hummel’s answer is simple: the offer.

Now, Hummel’s old property, along with several neighboring plots, is being graded and prepared for development. Bill Westbrook is the land developer behind what will eventually be called Cobbleton. This project is unique because so many people will eventually be housed in a relatively small area. It’s located within the Columbus city limits, an area where high-density development is encouraged. But Westbrook says he doubts he could get permission to build a similar project anywhere else in the region. He says suburbs and rural townships, where a lot of the new development is happening, require large lot sizes and low density. And that Westbrook says, is creating sprawl.

Kimberly Gibson is developing a regional growth strategy for Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission. She says per-capita land use in central Ohio has increased rapidly.

With current population projections, by 2030 Central Ohio will add more than a half-million new people, and they’re all going to have to live somewhere.

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