Ohio’s Rural-Urban Connections: Learning from Marion County

November 14th, 2014

By Alison D. Goebel, Associate Director

At GOPC, we focus on researching policies and strategies that revitalize Ohio’s communities, particularly our cities that face legacy challenges. However, GOPC’s work has always had the dual purpose of valuing our urban cores and preserving Ohio’s open space and farmland.

Farmscape in Marion County, Ohio

I was reminded of the importance of preserving farmland and open space earlier this month when my Leadership Ohio class and I visited the farming community of Marion County, Ohio, to learn about agriculture’s contributions to Ohio’s life and economy and the greater national economy. Our hosts gave us incredible “behind the scenes” tours of livestock and crop farms and provided a window into the inextricable relationship between the rural and urban in Ohio.

One in seven Ohioans work in an agriculture-related field and as various speakers reminded us, the global food system starts with crop and livestock farmers. Ohio, which is on the eastern edge of the soy and corn belt, is a major contributor to the global food system: agriculture makes up 7% of Ohio’s GDP.

But Ohio remains an extremely urban state, and this mix of urban and rural create diverse metro areas. Marion County is one hour north of Columbus, and is arguably on the far edges of the Columbus metro. Many people I spoke to visited Columbus at least once a month for business or for pleasure–and some travel to Columbus much more often. But Marionites see themselves as part of the Marion community or a broader, less place-bound, rural community. They do not see themselves as being part of the Columbus ambit.

Alison in Marion County

Like I find in many communities in Ohio, there was a pride in place among the people I met in Marion County. And as is the case in many of Ohio’s communities, this pride in place derived from pride in work. Youngstowners’ fondness for their scrappy city is one enduring legacy of its steel mills. Marionites’ pride in rural living is a direct product of the hard, unrelenting hours that farming requires. This diversity within Ohio’s metros—this mix of urban, suburban, and rural; industrial, retail, and agricultural—is one of Ohio’s greatest strengths. Our industry diversity certainly helps Ohio weather economic storms, but the resulting cultural diversity also means that there is a place for everyone in Ohio.

The diversity of Ohio also means that we depend on one another. As one woman from Marion said as we talked about the shopping and entertainment options in Marion, “I’m glad I don’t live in Columbus, but I am glad it is there.” I could say the same about Marion County. For many reasons I would fail at being a good rural resident but I am extremely grateful for Marion County, where over 80% of its land is dedicated to the crops and livestock pastures that form the foundation to the country’s food system.

In Ohio, the economic reach of our cities is strong and extends across counties, but the impact of our agricultural lands are just as important. Maintaining this balance—keeping urban places urban and rural places rural—helps each place do what it does best.

Yearlings in Marion

Kasich Signs Bill with Clean Ohio Funding

June 13th, 2012

On Monday, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 487—also known as the Mid-Biennial Review Bill [MBR]—including a $42 million allocation for the Clean Ohio Fund. Greater Ohio would like to thank the General Assembly and Gov. Kasich for supporting the Clean Ohio Fund, which contributes to the quality of life and economic development of many Ohio communities.

The MBR, subtitled the Management Efficiency Plan (MEP), is a new effort by Gov. Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly to evaluate and refine Ohio’s $55.7 billion budget at the midpoint of the two-year budget cycle, as opposed to solely at its conclusion. The stated purpose of the MEP is to “streamline operations, reduce costs and improve delivery of services for Ohio taxpayers.” The Governor used his line-item veto authority multiple times, but he kept appropriations for Clean Ohio Fund intact.

The Clean Ohio Fund is a state fund authorized by Ohio taxpayers in 2000, and again in 2008, to support brownfield revitalization, farmland preservation, green space conservation, and recreational trails. The allocated $42 million will be shared between Clean Ohio’s Green Space Conservation and Farmland Preservation programs. Communities can apply for the Clean Ohio funding, which requires a private match of 25-50 percent, and then applicants are scored and peer reviewed in a competitive process so that only the most qualified projects are ultimately funded. Private organizations and local communities become the owners of the projects and they are responsible for ongoing maintenance and improvement costs. Since the upfront cost of land is often prohibitive, the Clean Ohio Fund allows communities to protect land that they might not have been able to otherwise.
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Another Defense for Farmland Preservation

December 23rd, 2010

By Gene Krebs.

When I first started in the smart growth arena back in 1997, few seemed to realize the value of farmland.  It was often considered a blank pallet for development.  I tried to explain that farmland holds value beyond simply land preservation in and of itself.

A lobbyist actually once told me that she had been in the grocery store, and there was plenty of food.  Therefore there was no need to preserve farmland, and in fact, that land would be better used for housing.  I tried to explain that, when looking in the long term, not only would there be the possibility of global food shortages, but also the housing market was vastly overbuilt to the point where it would become a false economy.  Ever pour water on a rock?  It looks wet but nothing has soaked in?  That was my impact with her.

In addition to all these reasons to preserve farmland, a recent article from the Wall Street Journal entitled “Resource-Rich States Surge” makes the financial case for the value of farmland and the need to preserve it.  Not only does this article explain the obvious, detrimental effects of overbuilt housing, but more importantly it shows that commodity-rich states, including primarily those with farm earnings, are faring the best.

The most relevant quote from the article states, “In the third quarter, commodity-rich states continued to gain ground compared with other states. Overall farm earnings, for instance, grew 12% on average in the period, which made South Dakota, Kansas and Minnesota among the nation’s fastest gainers in overall income during the quarter.”

Therefore, farmland adds tremendous value to the states prudent enough to preserve it.  It even gives a competitive edge.  Hopefully Ohio can learn from this and acknowledge the importance of farmland preservation.