Monday, March 28, 2005

Between blogger and laptop problems, this week's posts are going up late.

Gideon's third question is "How has several generations of being farmed by the same family made your land a good place?" The most obvious answer is that the land is still here. It is easy to overlook the importance of that simple fact. Land, in our contemporary economy, has become another item of commerce. There is a tendency to treat it as something as fungible as iron ore, scrap metal, computer chips, soybeans or bananas. The only special quality it has in the marketplace is the quality of "location." Location does not mean some inherent geological or even geographic virtue. It refers to the land's relationship to other factors in the economy. Is this particular patch of ground close to an interstate highway? What is the average household income? Is there a school nearby? What are the tax and zoning policies of the local government? Is it located within commuting distance of employers and shopping? If a patch of ground has the proper virtues of location, then it has value. What kind of land it is is almost irrelevant. If it is hilly, we can flatten it out. If it is swampy, we can fill it in. Fertility of the soil is irrelevant, since dirt is simply what goes under asphalt and building foundations.

The importance of family ties to the land is that it makes values other than those of the marketplace part of the discussion. Farming our hillsides will never bring the return that selling the place in five acre subdivision parcels will. There is a certain ascetic quality to the life of any long time farm family within commuting distance of the the urban sprawl. You conciously agree to ignore the potential fortune under your feet in order to be a steward of something beautiful and irreplacable.

The sycamore tree that towers over our barn goes straight up and then branches out wildly. I know that it does this because when it was a sapling, and my wife's grandfather a boy, he knocked the top off it one day while walking along the fenceline. I do not know of any way of putting a price on that knowledge.