An Open Letter to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors

My name is Maja Black, and I am currently farming in Johnson County with my sister, Carmen. I am writing in support of Kate Edwards and the motion to end the 40 acre rule. Much like Kate, we grow vegetables for a CSA that provides food for over 200 families in our local area, eight months out of the year. However, unlike Kate, Carmen is not a tenant farmer. She is lucky enough to have had both the opportunity and family support (emotionally and financially) to buy forty acres.

In short, this means that on our farm, we have the ability to create infrastructure that works for us—to own buildings and hoop houses that make production easier, safer, and possible for a longer season. We are able to make these decisions about buildings, about more permanent infrastructure, not only because Carmen owns the land, but because the land is zoned agriculture. In contrast, Kate is limited by the fact that she is renting land, and shouldn’t invest in permanent infrastructure before she owns land herself. And if she were to buy less than 40 acres right now, it would not be zoned agriculture, which means that she would have to go through a whole lot of paperwork to do anything agricultural on her property, much less build any infrastructure.

All of this is to say that there are some key things that make farming in the way that we do feasible: 1) Owning your own land, and 2) Having that land be zoned agriculture.

As small vegetable producers, we are working so hard to provide food for our local community—our produce wouldn’t survive the long distribution chain that industrial vegetables take to our grocery stores. We try and grow food that is fresh and healthy—without the use of chemicals and additives. We are working, every day, to adapt our current food system into one that nourishes and benefits everyone, not just the people at the top, making money off the system.

As advocates of Johnson County, you use producers like us to tell a story about how local food can work, and what a great job we are doing, here in Johnson County. In return, it would be really amazing to be treated as experts in our field. To be treated as responsible farmers should mean to be listened to as some of the most knowledgeable people about land use and sustainable management. And as those experts, we are telling you that we need to be able to access land.

The reason I farm with my sister, and the reason our friend Anna is farming with us, is not because we love each other (though we do). The reason is that neither Anna nor I have the resources to start our own farms yet, much less purchase 40 acres of our own, and farming together is a current solution that lets each of us be on the land, working towards our goals. What are you doing to help us access land?

Eliminating the 40 acre rule would create opportunities for young producers like us to work toward something different. This is about local farmers who produce food that is good for you to eat, telling you exactly what we need to make the local food economy you are asking for, and we need it today. If you support local food, you should support local farmers.

Thank you for spending the time to make our county a better place to live.

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