More of the quarry story

A spring milestone: Casey finally got onto the field with the chisel plow today! This is just the first step in spring ground prep, and it will likely be weeks before he can do more, but STILL ... it has BEGUN!

A spring milestone: Casey finally got onto the field with the disk today! This is just the first step in spring ground prep, and it will likely be weeks before he can do more, but STILL … it has BEGUN!

Several times in recent weeks, we have been approached by people who have questions about the relationship between farms and pressure from the aggregate industry (or other potential conflicting uses of farmland). Apparently, word has gotten out that we have lots of experience at this point addressing such questions.

For newer readers to our blog, some quick backstory: In 2010, a gravel company applied to convert a piece of prime farmland on Grand Island to “mineral extraction” zoning — i.e. applied to start a gravel quarry here on the island. We spent the next year helping to organize an effort in opposition — an effort that became almost a second full-time job as we juggled farming and caring for our newborn son as well. The Yamhill County Commissioners ultimately passed the zone change, but we are still working to oppose the start up of this proposed quarry. Six years later, and it is still not operating.

So, I suppose in those years we’ve gained some level of experience that might be helpful to others. One person I spoke with in recent weeks is a graduate student from Ontario studying land use planning in rural areas that abut large metro areas (in her case Toronto). We talked about Oregon’s history of land use laws and how we perceive those affecting our farm. And we talked about our experience with the land use process in regards to the quarry.

Today we received an email from another farm in Colorado. They are facing the threat of a gravel quarry and concrete batch plant that wants to go in adjacent to their farm. They were wondering what tips we might have about the opposition process. In writing my response, I had the opportunity to reflect (perhaps for the first time) on all the massive work we’ve done over the last seven years to oppose the proposed quarry here on Grand Island. So much of what we did was very organic at the time — we hadn’t been involved in community organizing or activism in quite this way before, so we didn’t have a clear game plan. Instead, we worked piece by piece with other people to figure out what our opposition might look like.

What follows is an edited version of my email response, in which I break down what we actually did and why I think each step was important. I think that these steps would probably apply in many similar situations where a farm or other body wants to oppose a proposed project that might have negative impacts — be it a quarry or polluting industry or other potentially harmful use of the land.

How to organize an opposition:

  1. Educate yourself about the quarry’s application process!!!! What exactly do they need to do and when? What are the laws around land use and who do they “favor” in terms of uses? This is all critical information for you to have. Find out who will make the decisions and what kinds of factors they will consider. Your local planning department is likely your best source for this information. Be very very very friendly with them and recognize that they are people. Go visit them in person. Dress in clean “town” clothing. Introduce yourself. Be persistent about getting the information you need. All else is pointless if you miss a critical deadline for comment or don’t understand what the decision making body is actually looking at in the case.
  2. Publicize what is happening and make sure that the public knows exactly how/when they can comment on the project (if there IS a comment opportunity). In our case, we did this by spending thousands of dollars for a full page ad in our local newspaper. The ad emphasized the farming history on Grand Island and shared the date/time of the first hearing. This really galvanized our community — lots of people came to the first hearing and the numbers just went up from there as hearings continued. Also: post about it on your website/blog; write letters to the newspaper; make yard signs. We made signs that said: “Protect Grand Island . com” and put them in the yards of supportive neighbors all over our area — the website then had more information about how to get involved.
  3. Organize with people who care. Who else is in the neighborhood? Who else might be affected? Can you pull together a group of people who are stakeholders and/or concerned about this? Do you have CSA members or other customers who would be willing to work on this with you? Try to meet regularly to brainstorm what to do and to prepare testimony if there will be a hearing. We met weekly for months with dozens of neighbors and concerned citizens.
  4. Make it easy for people to comment. We made postcards addressed to our county planning department that gave people an opportunity to very easily and quickly oppose the proposed quarry (with space for comments). We gave these out everywhere and the county received HUNDREDS of them, all of which went on the legal file. We also kept our effort’s website up to date with the email and mailing contact info for the planning department and the local papers.
  5. Get legal counsel. We hooked up with Crag Law Center, a not-for-profit law firm out of Portland that specializes in environmental law. They were able to help us hone our testimony and they testified as well and represented us at the land use board of appeals. We formed a non-profit so that people could donate tax-deductible funds to our cause to help pay our legal fees and other expenses.
  6. Tell your story. Why does your use of the land matter? Emphasize the role you (and other farmers) play in your local economy. This will likely be important in your testimony, but also in your public message. What would be lost in terms of money, jobs, and other benefits to the community???
  7. Be persistent. We are STILL fighting this quarry, six years later. We watch their every move and continually correspond with the related agencies so that they are very aware there is a concerned citizen effort opposing this quarry. This makes a big difference. If those agencies and decision makers don’t know there’s opposition, they might not do much except “rubber stamp” it. Our non-profit board still meets at least once a year and more frequently when there are moments for action. The process has been exhausting and dispiriting at times, but we all feel like it’s important to do! So we persist! If you want to stop this quarry, you will likely have to work HARD long hours. It has felt like a second job to us at times, and we have kids and a farm to run! We have wanted to quit many times, but we’ve persisted.

I told this farmer that I wished we already had a clear (and successful) ending to our particular story. Alas, it is ongoing. Most recently we were attending hearings regarding the gravel company’s application for a flood plain permit. We made a strong case against the permit, but the county granted it. Still, there are more permits for them to attain, and we have not given up hope. From what we’ve heard regarding some of the state and federal agencies, they share our reservations about parts of the proposed quarry, and they are aware that it is still a contentious project. So, we will see.

I felt like sharing all of this today, because so many of you have walked on this journey with us over the years — either by putting a sign in your yard, mailing a postcard, donating money to our non-profit or even showing up in person to one of the many hearings. This has been a large scale community effort, and from our vantage point today I see so much beauty in the work we’ve done. I see that there has been dedication born out of love for the land, love for Oregon agriculture, and love for future generations.

Activism is hard work. It can feel pointless for years and years and years. I see this in other causes too — that dedicated individuals and groups will sometimes put in decades of work before seeing the fruits of their labor. But when people care and they persist, things can happen. Looking at the big picture — even of an unfinished story — can give me hope on gray days when it is easy to yearn for quick solutions.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Seasonal salad mix
  • Salad turnips“Salad” turnips? you may ask. What does that mean? It means that these are turnips that were bred to be most delicious when grown and eaten fresh in the early spring. They follow closely behind radishes for being some of the quickest to grow early season crops, and they are also uniquely suited for growing now — finding their sweetness and tenderness in these cool-ish spring days of growth. So, how to eat? As the name implies: fresh! These are not intended to be cooked but to be eaten as you might eat one of those spring radishes: sliced raw onto a salad, or dipped in ranch dressing, or just chomped right off the end of the greens with a happy hoorah for spring! The greens are also delicious and very similar to mustard greens. They are tender enough to chop and throw into your salad, or you can chop and sauté them. They will cook down a lot, so if cooking, I usually combine them with another cooked green to make them go farther. For example, I’ll throw them in when I’m cooking kale for lunch.
  • Marina di Chioggia winter squash
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
  • Green onions — Rethink your uses of green onions! These aren’t just for chopping onto salads (although that is yummy!) — we also chop green onions and use them in place of bulb onions when we cook. I like to heat a little butter in a pan and sauté chopped green onions (including the green part!) before throwing in greens or broccoli.
  • Green garlic — To reiterate on last week’s notes, green garlic can be used in the same way as clove garlic, but you chop the whole plant to use. Add to salad dressings, sauté in butter before cooking greens … or, for a fun treat, try roasting green garlic whole in a pan until crispy (with oil/butter and salt) and then serving along the side of the plate as a beautiful edible garnish. Eat it with your fingers!
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