Under the Blade: The Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes

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In 1998, the last farm in Des Plaines, Illinois was subdivided. Seven acres along the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska sold for $5700 per acre, twenty times the price for agricultural use. Waukesha County, Wisconsin, although still largely in agriculture, has been almost entirely zoned for small lot subdivisions. Nationwide, the cumulative effect of thousands of individual land use decisions is an orgiastic devouring of the countryside that consumes at least 1.4 million acres of rural land each year, and fragments a much larger area. The effects on landscape functions include loss of agricultural production, water pollution, increases in local runoff and flooding, loss of habitat and biodiversity, and the loss of natural beauty. In exchange we get malls, retail strips, and an ugly sprawl that degrades people and community. How have we come to this, and more importantly, how might we find a better, sustainable approach to the use of land? Land use decisions are the result of complex interactions among law, economics, landscape characteristics, population growth, social and political forces, ethics, and aesthetics. Under the Blade: The Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes examines the loss of farmland and other rural lands from each of these perspectives, and shows how interactions among different factors greatly complicate sustainable land management. Included throughout the seven main chapters of the book are descriptions of some of the tools and strategies that can be used to preserve farmland and guide development. The application of these tools is illustrated by 22 case studies of towns and regions throughout the United States, each with a somewhat different challenge, response, and degree of success (or failure).Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant theologian hanged by the Nazis in 1945, stated that “the ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” Our current choices in the use of the land are among the most important factors shaping that future world, and Under the Blade demonstrates that the quality of that future is far from certain.
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Editorial Reviews

For planners and others concerned with invasive, pervasive urban sprawl, seven explanatory chapters (by the editors and a few others) examine the many contributing causes and ugly consequences of the loss of farmland and other rural lands, and they present tools and strategies that work for preservation. Application of these tools is illustrated in 22 contributed case studies of towns and regions throughout the US. Olson is an agroecologist with the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, U. of Nebraska- Lincoln; Lyson is a sociologist who directs the Farming Alternatives Program at Cornell U. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813335971
  • Publisher: Westview Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 484
  • Product dimensions: 1.08 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard K. Olson is a researcher with the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The editor of five other books addressing human impacts on envrionment, he is currently examining ways to relocalize agriculture and increase local food security. Thomas A. Lyson is a professor in the Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University. He also serves as director of the Farming Alternatives Program at Cornell, and as editor of Rural Sociology.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
About the Contributors
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 Farmland Loss in America 15
Ch. 2 A Landscape Perspective on Farmland Conversion 53
Ch. 3 The Law of the Land 97
Ch. 4 The Economics of Farmland Conversion 137
Ch. 5 Preserving Community Agriculture in a Global Economy 181
Ch. 6 Ethics and Aesthetics in the Loss of Farmland 217
Ch. 7 A National Policy for Farmland Preservation 247
Case Studies 270
Index 453
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