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Shelby County residents think it’s important to have farmland and preserve that heritage, although they don’t really know what its value is.
That was a key point found in a poll commissioned by the Shelby Area Rural Conservation group and conducted last fall among 300 residents in the county.
About 30 people turned out Wednesday night at the Shelby County Extension Office to hear those results from Martha DeReamer, CEO of Matrix Group, which gathered the data.
“Our survey shows that this community does not really understand fully how much farming contributes to the economy here,” she said.
But she said, even if residents don’t have a good grasp of how important farming is to the community, the upside is that Shelby Countians do care about rural concerns.
“The big picture is that people that live here love the small-town atmosphere and want to keep it that way, and they especially want to keep and protect the farmland,” she said.
Nine-seven percent of the respondents said they thought it was important to keep the county’s rich history for future generations.
“In spending a couple of months here, I learned that this county has such a rich agricultural history that has played a very significant role throughout Kentucky.
“And I also saw that people here are very proud of that history, and going even beyond farming, they value the beauty of their rural landscape, and within that, they are concerned about things like noise and air pollution as well as having a strong economic bottom line.”
But there were the conflicted perspectives, too:
§ 97.7 percent said they thought the most important thing about farmland is as a source of food
§ 85.4 percent said there should be greater focus on growing the agriculture economy in Shelby County.
§ 81.1 percent thought zoning regulations should prevent farmland from being developed.
§ 78.9 percent said they thought farms contributed to the tourism sector of the local economy.
§ 74 percent understood that owners of agricultural land paid more in property taxes than they received in public services.
The questions were derived from surveys with 18 community leaders, and the results carry a plus-minus accuracy of 5.25 points.
Issues and attitudes
The survey also asked residents how they feel about living in Shelby County, and the small-town atmosphere came out first, with 24.3 percent citing that as No. 1.
But residents also like the friendly people (23.6 percent), location (22.5) and country living (18.8).
Farming was near the bottom – cited by 13.3 percent – as the reason they like living in the county.
And the survey showed that residents share the concerns that face most Americans:
Employment (24 percent), population growth (15.5 percent), immigrant population (12.7 percent), education (12 percent) and loss of farmland (6.6 percent).
DeReamer said that the study would provide directional guidance in order to develop long-range plans for land use and rural conservation.
SARC officials have developed several responses, including promoting the economic contributions and advantages farming has on the county, promoting locally grown food, supporting educational programs that prepare students for careers in agriculture, promote the environmental benefits of preserving green space and include the role of agriculture in the county’s historic preservation efforts.
Jim Ellis, president of the SARC, who helped with the presentation, said he wants to use the results to start an agricultural outreach program that can explain the industry in broader ways to a broader audience.
“We need to enlist more volunteers to go out and explain to the community about the importance of farming and all it encompasses in Shelby County,” he said. “We will target the schools, and maybe do an agricultural career day or something like that.”
Bill Hedges, magistrate in District 4, said he applauded Ellis’ idea of impressing the importance of farming on students, but said that parents should pick up on that thought and practice it at home.
“We have to teach our children about the value of agriculture,” he said. “My wife, Phyllis, and I have a big garden, and when it’s time for the harvest, we let the kids help so they can see food from a perspective outside of the grocery store.”
Food is the key
But the main impetus to gather the information was to understand the agricultural industry in the county, and Horace Brown told the group he thought farmland was most important as a food source.
“We need to focus more on growing food,” he said. “I grew up on a farm and we lived off the land, hunting, fishing and farming. The only thing we ever bought was sugar.”
Jack Trumbo said he had read that the average American farmer feeds 157 people.
“They say that in 2050, we will have to feed nine billion people, and we will have to do it with less land and less resources,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, every farmer needs water and seed and money to operate, but the most important thing a farmer needs is farmland.”
Susan Schlosnagle, who lives on a farm in Pleasureville with her husband, Doug, said she thinks it’s difficult to promote locally-grown food in Shelby County.
“There’s no market for it here,” she said. “Kroger and Walmart don’t buy locally, so we need to find a way for farmers to sell locally.”
Key survey questions, responses
1. Having working farms in Shelby County makes it a better place to live: 97.7 percent
2. Farmland is important because it is a source of food: 97.7 percent
3. Shelby County’s long and rich history of farming should be kept for future generations: 97.4 percent
4. Farmland conservation should be integrated into Shelby County’s long-range plan for growth and development: 93 percent
5. Working farms in Shelby County contribute to the unique character of Shelby County in the 6. Louisville area: 92.2 percent
6. There should be education and incentive programs to encourage young people to get into farming: 91.3 percent
7. A program to provide funding that would give farmers incentives to keep agricultural land in Shelby County should be explored: 88 percent
8. There should be greater focus on growing the agriculture economy in Shelby County: 85.4 percent
9. An important goal for local government over the next 10 to 30 years is to keep as much agricultural land as possible: 84.5 percent
10. Since converting agricultural land for other purposes changes that land forever, zoning regulations should set aside prime agricultural land to prevent it from being developed: 81.1 percent
11. Working farms in Shelby County contribute to the tourism sector of the local economy: 78.9 percent
12. Agricultural land represents a net economic benefit to local government because it generates more in property tax revenues than it receives back in public services: 74 percent
13. Development should occur primarily on land in and around Shelbyville and Simpsonville: 72.4 percent.