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Transition, Preservation On The Rural-Urban Fringe

 Since 1950 over 7 million acres of Ohio farmland have been lost to urban sprawl
Renee Wilde
Since 1950 over 7 million acres of Ohio farmland have been lost to urban sprawl

Although the term Urban Sprawl was coined in the 1930’s, by the ‘70’s, it was a hot topic, as increasingly more rural areas, and farmland, were divided up and paved over into strip malls and subdivisions.

This spreading ring around our cities where urban sprawl is happening is officially known as the Rural-Urban Fringe.  Today on County Lines, producer Renee Wilde takes us there.

The Rural-Urban Fringe is a transition zone between town and country, where rural and urban uses meet, mix.…..and sometimes clash.

In 1969, Mary and Robert Boeck, along with their 3 young sons, moved their dairy operation to a 178 acre farm in Jamestown, Ohio. Back then, the area was a thriving farming community.

The Boeck family and many of their neighbors have come together to preserve their farmland through an easement
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
The Boeck family and many of their neighbors have come together to preserve their farmland through an easement

Mary, now 88, and two of her sons, David and Tim, are gathered around the her kitchen table in that original farmhouse. Her son’s describe when they first moved here.

Tim reflects back on that time, “Well, Hogs were prevalent in this area this area because a lot of corn in this area, so it was hogs and beef cattle.”

David adds, “And once we got up here, what, for six months probably, Dad went down to Spring Valley until we transformed the hog barns to cattle barns to move the dairy herd up here.

Mary’s husband got cancer in ‘91. Tim tells me, “When dad passed away, David and I then rented the farm from mom and started grain farming and raised a few head of cattle.”

David and Tim are now in their 50’s with families of their own and urban sprawl is pushing in on the land that they have farmed for past five decades. The Boeck brothers wanted to preserve their farming heritage their kids and grandkids.

David says,” On the other side of the county they’re building up more and more, and there is less and less farm ground. Sooner or later you’re gonna need to feed the people and you’re gonna need the ground. So we just thought this was a good opportunity to join the block around us and create a larger area that would be preserved agriculture.“

The Boeck brothers joined with some of their surrounding neighbors, and put their property into a farmland preservation easement with the help of the Tecumseh Land Trust, a non-profit group that works with local farmers to preserve Ohio’s farmlands.

David estimates, “There are six or seven farms that’s joined up here that are all together now.”

Tim adds, “There’s a couple thousand acres all together now.”

During the 4 year process to secure the easement, the Boecks could see the urban sprawl growing closer to their farmland.

Tim explains, “There’s a farm about 2 to 3 miles from here that was split up into housing development. It was a very, very productive farm, and we hated to see that……….disappear.”

The sound of a small airplane roars above the farm fields surrounding the Boeck's property. The plane belongs to a local resident who bought a piece of that neighboring farm Tim Boeck was talking about.

When that former farm was divided into around 20 different plots, three pilots bought land to build homes with adjacent private grass airstrips.

Some former farmland now serves as country air strips, primarily used for vintage planes.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Some former farmland now serves as country air strips, primarily used for vintage planes.

Jeff Stintson was one of the first. He says “We were looking for a place in the country, and this whole farm used to be one big farm, 500 acres and they started dividing it up and I thought well I can make a nice strip there, so I bought that and built the strip.”

Jeff and fellow neighbor and pilot Dewey Davenport, are sitting in lawn chairs outside a large pole barn filled with vintage biplanes on Dewey’s property.

Dewey explains why these plots of former farmland were perfect for them.

“If you notice pretty much every airplane that’s in here is an antique, and their made for grass runways, and short takeoff and landing type flying,” Dewey says. “So it’s about a quarter mile long. It’s a perfect length.”

As the 20 or so lots from the original sale of the farm continue to be re-subdivided and sold, more houses and barns are cropping up on the road.

Jeff looks around at the houses lining the rural street and says, “ We’ve been in our place for 8 or 9 years now, and we’ve seen it, where you could look down the road and see one neighbor, and now I’m seeing 6 or 7 houses.”

The irony isn’t lost on them that the same continued sale of farmland that allowed them to build their country airstrips, may also be the reason they get pushed out of the area eventually.

As the rural-urban fringe continues to push outward, it’s gobbling up farm land at an amazing speed. Since 1950 over 7 million acres of Ohio farmland have been lost. Only two thirds remain.

Through their preservation easement, David and Tim Boeck know that their will farm will be one of those that remain for the next generation.

Tim explains, “ We’re not in it for the profit. We’re in it cause we like the lifestyle. We like to see plants come up in the spring. And we like to see plants be productive.

We want to see the ground survive. We want to see it remain productive.”

His brother Dave agrees and adds, “You know, it’s in our best interests to take care of everything, and preserve the resources.”

County Lines is WYSO’s new series focusing on small towns and rural communities in the Miami Valley and beyond. Community Voices producer Renee Wilde travels down the highways and back roads to bring WYSO listeners stories of country life that go beyond the stereotypes. County Lines is made possible by a generous grant from Ohio Humanities. 

Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.
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