Category Archives: Articles of Interest

Excellent article on livable communities by Robert Steuteville, Better Cities & Towns

What is a livable community, anyway?

by Robert SteutevilleBetter Cities & Towns

A walkable community is the most common term to describe the alternative to drive-only suburbia. Walkability is easy to explain but uninspiring. Walking is so basic to human life that we often take it for granted. Perhaps a better term is livability.

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Iowans should invest in water quality

Quad City Times, September 17, 2014

by Tony Thompson and Jennifer Terry

Farmers are “stewards of the land”. Most Iowans have heard this expression growing up—the notion that farmers responsibly care for the land in order to leave it better than they found it for future generations. These are the true environmentalists, and there are still Iowa farmers who fit the stewardship image.

Many Iowa farmers have been practicing good stewardship on their land for decades—sometimes with, sometimes without government incentives. They use their own money to build wetlands and ponds in order to create habitat and keep rain water—and the soil and nutrients it carries with it—from washing onto their neighbor’s fields. They ensure there are buffers alongside streams, and they plant crops a reasonable distance from waterways. They see the land as more than just a commodity.

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Article by Peter Coy Highlights Negative Consequences of Land Use Policies

The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord by Peter Coy

What does a map have to do with a riot? Everything, in the case of Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot dead a black teenager, some residents looted and rioted, and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The map of St. Louis County, the home of Ferguson, looks like a shattered pot. It’s broken into 91 municipalities that range from small to tiny, along with clots of population in unincorporated areas. Dating as far back as the 19th century, communities set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks. Their behavior has ranged from somewhat parochial to flatly illegal.

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One Family, Two Views on How to Run Iowa Farm

by John Biewen and Rob Dillard

NPR, April 28, 2008

It’s a good time to be a farmer in Iowa. Corn prices, at $5.91 per bushel as of Monday, are soaring in part because of growing demand for ethanol, a corn-based fuel that the federal government supported when it passed the energy bill late last year. And with help from chemicals and biotechnology, Iowa farmers produce 150 bushels of corn per acre, nearly double the yield in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Griffieon family has owned a farm in Ankeny, Iowa, since 1868 — spanning six generations — and has witnessed the growth.

Craig and LaVon Griffieon and their three children raise corn, soybeans and livestock on 1,150 acres. Their stock of antibiotic-free Limousin cattle has roamed the farm since 1960. For more than a decade, they have also offered pasture-raised poultry.

For the first time in years, the Griffieons say they’re doing well financially, but they’re ambivalent about the direction of American agriculture.

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IA’s Topsoil Rule: Changes Could Worsen Flooding by John Michaelson, Public News Service-IA

(06/27/14) DES MOINES, Iowa – In an agricultural state such as Iowa, topsoil is one of the most valued natural resources. But concerns are being raised about possible changes to the state’s rules about replacing topsoil at construction sites.

As it stands now, if one acre or more of land is disturbed during construction of a home or business and there’s at least four inches of topsoil present, it must be restored unless that isn’t feasible. Some developers want that requirement eased because of cost, so options are now being considered, according to Adam Schnieders with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

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Looking for the straight scoop — Will Iowa’s topsoil rule get bulldozed? by Todd Dorman

Some folks are looking hard for more dirt on Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration.

I’m just looking for some in my yard.

Nearly seven years ago, we moved from an older neighborhood in Ames to our newish, late ’90s subdivision on the north side of Marion. When the first spring in our new digs arrived, we set out to do some landscaping, flower beds, bushes, etc.

What we found out fast was that our sod was sitting on thick, compacted clay subsoil. Whatever topsoil had existed before this cornfield became a housing development was pretty much gone. It was an unpleasant surprise. I later learned that builders often strip the topsoil to make it easier to use heavy equipment on a worksite and speed up building. And in many cases, they don’t put much, or any, of it back. Sometimes, the topsoil is sold.

Now, whenever I plant anything in our yard, in fertile Iowa, for Pete’s sake, I have to buy dirt in a bag from a store. And having any decent grass means dumping a bunch of chemicals on my lawn. This is not an unusual story in the sprawling subdivisions of suburban Iowa.

“Most subsoils in Iowa are clay-based. The permeability is low to begin with,” said Joe Griffin, who leads the wastewater permitting program for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “And then run over it a few times with large equipment, that does not increase the permeability. When they’re done building the lots, they put a layer of sod on, which has a layer of topsoil on it. But it’s a small layer, three-quarters of an inch to an inch.”

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Five Farms Documentary Features Griffieon Family Farm

The Five Farms documentary followed five families over the course of a yearlong cycle of seasons in order to help people make the connection between the food on their tables, the farmers who work to produce it, and the value of the farmland they care for.

The Griffieon Family Farm, north of Ankeny, was one of five farms from across the country selected to participate in the documentary. When asked to summarize why she wanted to participate in the documentary, LaVon Griffieon said “Basically, to educate Americans about where their food comes from and the security of local food production. A community that hasn’t preserved enough farmland to feed itself is NOT sustainable.”

Visit the Five Farms  website to find out more about the project, read stories from the families, listen to the radio features and learn what it takes farm and produce the food we depend on.

Saving Farms in a Strange New Way

Scott County plans to be the first metro-area country to try a new tool for preserving farmland for good.

by David Peterson, Star Tribune

November 2, 2010

Joe Adams just hates the fact that his postal address is Shakopee.

Shakopee, to him, is the “Army barracks” he sees lining Hwy. 169 – unadorned townhome complexes that he’s convinced will be slums in 20 years, if not before.

His own spread many miles south of that city, with its 17 types of culinary herbs and its brilliantly colored rows of native-prairie wildflowers and its child visitors chasing frogs near a lake with trumpeter swans? Not Shakopee.

Yet a new approach to saving swatches of Scott County’s farmland from the slow march of suburbs across the countryside could bring those two worlds into either a closer embrace – or a collision.

Scott is moving toward becoming the first metro-area county to adopt a strategy associated mainly with densely settled East Coast states: A trading system for building rights.

Called Transfer of Development Rights, or TDR for short, the system aims to compensate farmers for the money they give up by not selling prime farmland to developers. In exchange, a developer gets the right to squeeze in extra housing units someplace else.

“It’s an ingenious idea that has been tried in hundreds of places around the country,” said Armando Carbonell, senior fellow at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “It has worked extremely well for some – and for some not at all.”That became apparent last week to a roomful of Scott County folks gathered in New Prague to hear about the experiences of three Minnesota counties that have tried it.

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