Monday, April 2, 2012

back to the (conservation) land

The part of the United States I live in is pocked with tracts of "conservation" land -- land granted a protected status in order to preserve its natural attributes. "Conservation" is a pastime for communities wealthy enough to reflect and see the deeper wonders and value of the land being preserved. In a sense, conserved land is a public response to the accusation that someone might "know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Conservation, from one point of view, is a luxury.

But in hard times, when luxuries tend to be whittled away ... well, attitudes are revised.

In Amherst, a town perhaps 10 miles from here, the government has decided to offer up conservation land to tenant farmers. The price for licenses is $125 per acre. Licenses can be renewed and they can also be vacated. It's only six acres in question at the moment. The price seems far from onerous and yet....

Such an arrangement provides some -- if not a lot -- of income for the town. Income is hard to come by in hard times. Towns, like individuals, are scrambling to make ends meet. And so, it crosses my mind, we return to a medieval model -- one in which the lord allows the tenant farmer to till the soil and pay the taxes that go with that tilling. It's not yet sharecropping in which the farmer goes into unending debt by buying seed and renting shelter against the income his crops may generate ... but there is a whiff of earlier, more indentured times.

Where hungers of one kind or another rise up, the luxury of conservation loses its luster.

PS. For a wider view of new tilling on conservation soil, here is a report by Reuters.

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