CFAC members are deeply concerned about the rapid loss of agricultural land in Missoula County. We do not believe that residential sprawl is the best use of the fertile lands that can support work farms, sustain rural communities, and feed people. We do, however, see a way for Missoula County's population to continue to grow without spreading houses across working farm and ranchlands.
Growing markets for local food is central to CFAC's strategy to conserve agricultural land. Producers need to be able to make a living on the land. CFAC has been working to create new markets and ensure fresh, local food is accessible to families of all income levels. For example, our programs include: Farm to School, EBT (food stamps at farmers’ markets), and Buy Fresh Buy Local (restaurant initiative). Thanks to the work of CFAC members -- as well as an increasingly robust demand for locally produced food in schools, universities, restaurants, farmers’ markets, and grocery stores -- these programs have kept money circulating through local farms and ranches while putting good food on all tables.
Helping beginning farmers and ranchers get started is another important component to CFAC's multi-pronged strategy to building a viable local food system and keeping farmland productive. In 2009, CFAC launched Land Link Montana, which is a farm and ranch transfer program that CFAC is piloting to help aspiring producers find suitable land and establish viable tenure arrangements.
Proactive and comprehensive land use policy is the third prong of CFAC's strategy to protect Missoula County's legacy of working farms and ranches.For decades, Missoula County residents have been talking about the loss of farmland due to unfettered development patterns. Now, it is essential that our local governments implement a predictable development review process that comprehnsively conserves the resources that sustain farms and feed people.
To address the loss of farmland at the point of its permanent conversion to development, CFAC is working to secure land use policies with these goals in mind:
Comprehensively protect the agricultural lands that are most viable for farming & ranching.
Provide predictability to developers, planners, policy makers, and residents.
Facilitate producers’ access to agricultural land.
Respect the interests of agricultural landowners and the equity built in their land.
Based on the above goals, CFAC's experience in reviewing subdivision proposals, and the findings in Losing Ground, CFAC has proposed a balanced package of 3 land use recommendations. Note that we are suggesting that the County and City gather public input and agency review in order to fine tune these proposals according to the community's needs:
1. Designate “Agricultural Cornerstone Areas” where important agricultural resources exist in Missoula County.
Prioritize the conservation of lands within designated cornerstone areas.
Support the cornerstone designation with fiscal and land-use policies.
2. Adopt “Agricultural Resource Standards” to mitigate the loss of important farm and ranchlands.
Create a more predictable subdivision review process.
Ensure new developments permanently conserve farm or ranchland of an equal or greater agricultural value as the land being converted to other uses.
3. Implement incentives for farmland conservation.
Use a broad suite of incentives to encourage and reward conservation, especially within Agricultural Cornerstone Areas.
Over 1,350 Missoula County residents and 33 organizations and businesses (PDF) have endorsed the above proposal to implement a comprehensive approach to conserving working farm and ranchlands. If you are a County resident and would like to sign our online petition, please go here to add your name and comments. If you are a business or organization that would like to join the diverse group of farmers, landowners, builders, food advocates, realtors, and conservationists, please get in touch with Annie Heuscher, CFAC's Land Use Program Manager:
For a bumper sticker, like the one on the left, swing by CFAC's office sometime. We're above Office City in downtown Missoula at 117 W. Broadway.