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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



I’ve been spending a lot of time behind the windshield of a truck the last couple of weeks as we get busy at work trying to get herbicide applied to farm fields. I enjoy being out in the country and as I grew up a country kid, I can’t imagine anywhere I would rather live. But as I’ve driven around I’ve noticed something disturbing lately. As I’ve been out and about I’ve noticed that the number of abandoned rural homes has only increased lately. Take a drive south through Adair county some Sunday afternoon and wind around the beautiful scenery while counting the number of uninhabited buildings and one might be surprised that it is so hard to find a place in the country to rent. In the past thirty years or so, we have seen a number of farmsteads abandoned and later returned to production land. This was caused mostly by the farm crisis of the 1980s and the consolidation of many family farms as farmers lost farms that had been in families for generations.

It has been said lately that the majority of Iowa farm land is now farmed by renters and that most land owners are now retired or held in corporations. As we see more people retiring and moving to town, the number of farmsteads and homes that are available will continue to dwindle. This cause of this, in my opinion is really three fold. First, with high crop prices, the ground once occupied by houses, and barns and chicken coops, is now more valuable as crop ground. Thus we lose not only habitat for humans, but when farmsteads are cleared we lose many old growth trees and windbreaks which help cool those hot August winds.

Secondly, there is no clear value to an owner for keeping up and old farm house. With the cost of taxes on agricultural land, certainly removing buildings make good sense, and since the majority of land owners are no longer farming or living locally, why would they want the hassle and trouble of being a landlord? If I was retired and living in the south over the winter would I really want to deal with a house in Iowa when the furnace goes out the day before Christmas? OF course I wouldn’t.

Finally, I know because I have lived in the country my entire life that country living, while a little more peaceful and laid back certainly can be more expensive than living in town. Between the cost of heating an old farm house in the winter, which generally leaves one at the mercy of the propane companies, and the cost of rural water, country living isn’t cheap by any means. And since so many of the houses in the country are older, you can only begin to imagine the things that slowly go wrong over time. From frozen water pipes in the winter, to tree damage and weed cutting in the summer country living can incur costs not seen in town living.

So what can we do about this? I think the first place to start would be for the legislature to step in. We currently pay farmers and/or landowners to not farm certain areas in order to maintain wildlife refuges and to help support prices, but what about some kind of tax break for landowners who will keep and maintain a farm home. Certainly there would be advantages to having rural residents near farm ground. When people live in areas around the countryside there is much less of a chance of illegal activity from meth labs to illegal dumping. A farm site that only sees traffic in the spring and fall are certainly better places for vandalism and theft than those who are near a maintained and lived in home in the rural community. And while we are at it, why not help those living in rural homes, even if they aren’t the owner of the home, in the way of grants for improvements which will make them more energy efficient and nicer to live in.

While this certainly won’t completely diminish the costs of living in the country, nor will it make it easier for young families to get into farming, certainly it will give more people the opportunity to live in a quiet peaceful area while maintaining some of Iowa’s most interesting homes. With all that said though, there are certainly more than enough advantages to living just outside the city limits and I’ll take that over being rich any day. See you next week, remember, we’re all in this together.