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mail survey and interview findings
“Zoning in DeKalb County has been important in keeping ag in this county strong. The ag community has worked hard to keep development from expanding out from incorporated communities. This is a real positive for ag if we can maintain that. Sticking to the land use plan is critical.” - study interviewee
Sustaining Farms on the Urban Edge
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To identify conditions under which farming may remain viable in agriculturally important areas that are subject to substantial development pressures we conducted 15 county level case studies in 14 different states.  The resulting analysis and report, "Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties", is arranged into chapters covering production inputs, marketing, farmland protection and outlook for the future. Read the full report (pdf)

Key Findings and Recommendations

  • Farmers were more likely to be positive about agriculture’s future in their county, if they regarded local government as sympathetic, or at least even-handed in resolving conflicts between farmers and non-farmers.
  • State governments should enable, and local authorities should operate, effective programs for purchasing development rights to farmland, thereby, either adding to the base that agricultural zoning supports, or, achieving what zoning fails to realize.
  • Local governments should apply zoning policies (e.g., large minimum-lot requirements, cluster zoning, urban growth boundaries) that help to preserve an adequate land base for farming.
  • There are often insurmountable obstacles to young or beginning farmers purchasing and renting land, especially if they are not related to the current farm owners.  Public and private agencies should encourage farm families to plan carefully for the transfer of ownership and management to their children or other relatives. 
  • Public and private agencies should encourage the launching and sustainability of farm enterprises likely to be profitable on the urban edge and on small acreages— such as high value specialty crops or livestock.

Case Studies:

Dairy cows in pasture

Berks County, Pennsylvania (pdf)

Orange County, New York (pdf)

Burlington County. New Jersey (pdf)

Carroll County, Maryland (pdf)

Dakota County, Minnesota (pdf)



Mail Survey and Interview Findings

What should interested citizens do about the viability of farming?



Mail Survey and Interview Findings ( PowerPoint)







The study was funded by a National Research Initiative grant from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

American Farmland Trust