Urban sprawl is eating up valuable Tennessee farms and woods and people are fighting back

Got sprawl? It’s past time to help young farmers access land

I’m not a farmer, I’m a hiker. I live in a shady mountain gap and can’t grow a fully ripe tomato in the summer — not to mention that the half-acre parcel of land that I call home includes a significant portion of river bed. But as a 20-year resident of rural Blount County, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I’ve watched the steady disappearance of farms over time, and I have wondered what can be done. 

This is why I rose at 4 a.m. for a trip to Nashville, planning to arrive before my alarm would normally sound. It will be my first time lobbying the state legislature and my first time meeting in person with the organizers of the Southeast Tennessee chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition — known as “Young Farmers” — who I’ve been Zooming with for the better part of the year. We are all headed to Ag Day on the Hill to advocate for young and beginning farmers and the  preservation of farmland for future generations. 

Empty warehouse

My traveling companions are my sleepy 9-year-old son and fellow sustainable growth activist Cat Griffith-Benson, a 34-year-old viticulture farmer in Blount County who is at least a fifth-generation farmer but whose ancestors settled here seven generations back. Her grandfather’s 300-plus-acre farm in Friendsville was once a thriving cattle and row crop operation and is now the site of an empty Amazon warehouse. Along with Blue Goose Winery on the west end of Maryville that she helps her family run and which she and her brother will become heir to, she has already inherited her family’s struggle with the aggressive pro-development forces. 

I have seen the heat maps from American Farmland Trust projecting what will happen under “Business As Usual” growth and “Runaway Sprawl” scenarios, with splotches of red spreading further and further into the green areas of our county like a wildfire. But anyone can drive around and see that the quiet, rural way of life is giving way to more cluster developments, traffic, noise and pollution. 

Read the full story at Hellbender Press.

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