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!!!!!! Versaland Farm threatened  RSS feed

 
Dan Grubbs
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Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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EDIT: I made this call to action earlier and I acknowledge I did so without fully researching this situation. After gathering and being given more information, I'm not sure I would change my own personal desire to contact the county board of supervisors in support of Grant. But, I likely would not have issued a call to action. The thread that follows is a good discussion nonetheless.

ORIGINAL POST:
I know many of you know Grant Schultz of Versaland Farm in Iowa or know of his work. His farm and his massive investment in his farm is being threatened by his county board of supervisors. I'm going to link to a Facebook timeline post from Grant below that will show a video Grant made to explain what's going on. But, the bottom line is we need as many people as we can get to write to his county board of supervisors in support of Grant.  You don't have to live in his county or in Iowa to voice your support. 

Here's the post: https://www.facebook.com/organicgrant/posts/10102092910253253?pnref=story

Please watch the video and consider writing an email.  What is happening to Grant could happen to any of us.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Edit:  The video link at the Versaland webpage is also the Facebook video (I imagine some permies would prefer a different way to view the video if anyone gets around to that):

https://www.versaland.com/support.

That webpage also lists folks to email and other resources.




 
Jimbo Shepherd
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Here is a YouTube Link



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IZG6OZ-G2U

There is now a donate button at the bottom of his support page.

Lets go Permaculture Army!  Permaculture is under attack!
 
Jimbo Shepherd
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Check out Curtis Stone commenting on the ridiculous local govt assault on this permaculture farm.

 
nancy sutton
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FYI ... just emailed justin rhodes with the info.  He visited Grant's place about a month ago.. if you open up his 'videos' page on his YouTube channel, and search for 'Iowa'... there are the three vlogs Justin made at Versaland. 
 
Xisca Nicolas
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I got it from his newsletter too...
Who can make a resumé in words? I could just understand his stressed voice in the video, and it hurts...

Also, I understood it has to do with farm tourism, which I think is very important for a farm, and for the public that can come.

And I want to understand how some local politics can change some laws: how could this happen? Has it to do with some US specificities?
 
Dan Grubbs
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In my issuing a call to action, I probably should have worked to present both sides of this issue. A key fact I was not aware of in this issue is the fact that Grant, as much as I love his work, does not own the farm in question. The rezoning that Grant is seeking for the land is not wanted by the owners, according to local news reports. Here's a short excerpt from the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

"But Schultz does not own the land, and the owners, Suzan Erem and Paul Durrenberger, oppose the rezoning application. Erem said Schultz's plans would turn much of the property's tillable land "into a resort" and that the number of cabins in his proposal is more than is needed for a farm of that size. "If it's not a resort, what do they need 36 cabins for?" she said."


I wish I had this information before rushing to issue a call to action that no one asked me to make. I would not make the original post had I known Grant didn't own the land and the land's owner not being aligned with his plans. I'm not saying what the county is doing is right. All I'm saying is that I would not have made the original post has I known all the facts.

Grant is doing amazing work up in Iowa ... in the middle of the world's corn and soy mecca. I hope Grant can continue his work, if not at the current location, then someplace where his work won't be threatened.

As the original poster, I ask for the administrators of this site, if possible, to remove this thread.
 
Kerry Rodgers
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Hi Dan and Moderators,

I also noticed that Grant's situation is complicated, but from what I know, such situations are not unique in the lives of people trying to do permie projects on land.  I think there is great value in discussing the situation on this thread as it unfolds.  Maybe we can help each other digest the complexity, and learn for our own future.  I urge you not to delete the thread.  Dan, if you worry that people starting now will read only the first post, you could always edit it.  The etiquette that I'm most comfortable with is to leave the original content as is, but add to the top or bottom something like: "Edit: please read the discussion below to more fully understand the situation before you decide what to do."

I will probably still try to help, but I want to know more first.  Grant alleges that the owners contracted with him for an option to buy, and also contracted certain terms in the lease that (I think) they originally supported, but later changed their minds.  I admit that I haven't seen the vid all the way to the end, as Grant requested, and haven't read all the resources on his support page.  I'm planning to do that when I get time, and may post again if I think I have any thoughts that might be useful to the community.

As for land ownership, there are some leaders in the community who advocate *not* owning the land, but having good lease contracts with willing owners.  So ownership shouldn't really be an acid test, I don't think.

Don't give up too soon! 
 
Kerry Rodgers
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I post this reluctantly, because there is so much negativity in this sad situation.  I watched the video to the end, and you need to do that to understand the documents that are linked below.  Because in the video, Grant says that some of the documents linked below are making false statements.

If you want to go through it yourself, here's a brief blog article that links to Grant's video, the newspaper article that Dan quoted, and rebuttals from the County staff and from the current owner.  Of course, as in any dispute, each person involved has their own point of view, with the lawyers and bureaucrats adding their hyperbole. I take it all with a grain of salt, but it is still very bitter. 

Xisca asked for a resumé of the situation.  Here's my attempt, with some speculation thrown in to fill gaps, based on what I've seen of Planning and Zoning government processes. 

It looks like the current owner and Grant made some legal contracts 4 years ago, then had some disputes last year, sued each other, went through mediation, and agreed in January 2017 that Grant would buy the property by 31 Dec 2017.  Grant will have to get the money in time, presumably through financing, or he loses the property. 

It will be much easier to get financing if Grant shows many legal business opportunities on the property.  For this, he has to work with the county government, whose job it is to slow things down and make them more expensive.  And more complicated, by trying to fit what a permaculture innovator wants to do into their predetermined categories.  In my experience it is normal for a purchaser to see whether he can get zoning approval before he closes a sale (at least, here in suburban Texas).  Normally the owner/seller is very supportive, because they want the sale to go through, but here the owner is not supportive.  Grant's current proposal does not have the support of the county staff, nor of their Planning and Zoning Commission--who are probably appointed by the county Board of Supervisors.  Probably the best Grant can hope for is that the Supervisors would give some guidance and vague conceptual support, and send it back to Grant and the staff to create something different that they would maybe accept.  In my experience, a more likely outcome is that they would "table" the issue, meaning delay the vote until a future meeting.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will consider the rezoning request Thursday September 14, 2017.  If you want to write them in support of Grant, your letter will probably have the best effect if they get it before Thursday.  I think I will probably write to them.

And this is why I don't have acreage yet.  I don't deal with this much conflict well, at all.
 
Kerry Rodgers
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Location: North Texas, Dallas area suburbs, US zone 8
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In the email newsletter for sustainabledesignmasterclass.com, Raleigh Latham shared this advice about communicating with the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, emphasizing respect.  I thought it was worth passing on, in case anyone here wants to write or call:


3) WRITE AN EMAIL to the Supervisors. Contact list at bottom of page here.  Share why you support the rezoning to AR, and how affordable farmworker housing, agritourism, and ecological businesses matter to you. Explain your connection to Versaland - as customer, student, or admirer - perhaps you've purchased plants, pastured meat, or engaged in the social fabric with a workshop or field day. If you're presently an admirer - share why you'd visit and how you'd benefit Johnson County while here. Share your unique perspective and engage respectfully, we're all humans.

4) CALL IN PERSON Engage with a personal phone call and talk through why you value Versaland, how it adds to the quality of Johnson County, Iowa, and the social, economic, and ecological benefits it brings via land access, organic food, improved water quality, and climate and flood resilience.  Please be respectful though.


Caveat:  I don't know any of these people, except from their public internet presence.  I'm just passing this on because I think it is good advice in general for dealing with local councils.
 
Dan Grubbs
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Kerry Rodgers,

Thanks for the well-thought-out note. I very much appreciate the work Grant has done. I wish there were more people doing what Grant is doing. I wish we could replicate Grant a thousand times all across the country. My only regret is that I jumped to a position of advocacy and encouraged others to do so without researching all the facts personally. Had I done so, I'm not sure I would have asked others to write to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, but only done so myself. I support what he's trying to achieve and build. I have written the board of supervisors pointing out the hard statistics of food insecurity in Iowa ... in Iowa, no less! The data is startling, and Grant (we all are) offering solutions to food insecurity right where people need it. This needs to happen in many more places.

I can live with the moderators keeping the thread up and I will likely edit my original post to reflect additional thought. I agree that this is a valuable discussion and worth the cost of my own embarrassment.

One of the responses to my call to action in social media was that a few people didn't think it was a good strategy for people outside of Johnson County, Iowa, to contact the board because they simply wouldn't care what people outside the district thought about the situation. I think I understand that position in that those supervisors only represent their districts or the county as a whole. But, I think demonstrable support for these kinds of farms needs to grow. Not just for Grant's farm, but for these kinds of places in general. The more policy makers and law givers understand the value we bring to the planet, the better chance we stand of protecting what we're trying to do from those who will want to try and stop what we're trying to do.

Land ownership: I don't know the facts of the contract between Grant and the landowners. I won't discuss that. However -- and this is NOT a commentary on their contract -- I'm a strong believer in the letter and the spirit of an agreement between contracted parties. I hate the idea of people using the notion that because something wasn't explicit in the language that they will then exploit the situation. If I make an agreement with someone and I don't like it later during the contract life ... too bad. That's on me because I agreed to the terms of a contract and I expect the other party to live up to the terms as equally as I do. We all sign contracts with people with the full knowledge that conditions in the future could change, but we still must abide by the terms.  Regarding whether to own or not ... it depends, but there is wisdom in both. If I'm going to lease agricultural property from an owner, I'm going to ensure my plans are fully understood by the owner before I sign. I'm also going to ensure language in the contract that will support those plans explicitly. I'm also going to seek short contract terms so that the owner and I can avoid being caught in bad situations due to changing times or other fluid factors.  For example, I know friend who leases 1,000 acres of crop land to a farmer. My friend is now sticking to two-year contracts due to the fluctuation of grain prices and land values. This allows for the farmer to get a new contract in two years if the price of grain falls and a new negotiated lease rate. It allows my friend to renegotiate new contract terms if the price of grain goes up. Both parties are protected in this example and no one has to ensure loss for an extended period of time.


 
Kerry Rodgers
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Location: North Texas, Dallas area suburbs, US zone 8
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Here's the only update I saw this morning:
http://www.press-citizen.com/story/news/local/2017/09/14/johnson-county-supervisors-versaland-grant-schultz-zoning-application/668317001/
I thought the paper did a pretty good job staying neutral and brief, yet capturing the most salient points.

Two quotes that caught my eye:

Supervisors received over 150 emails and phone calls — including some that were rude or disparaging — ...


and

The larger issue, Schultz said, is not about Versaland specifically, but land use planning that allows for more nontraditional farms.

"This is not about me and this farm," Schultz said. "This is about a big thing that affects everyone in the county, and (that's) antiquated land use planning that doesn’t properly accommodate people outside of nuclear families or the uber-wealthy."
 
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