I am an aspiring small-scale urban farmer, inspired by people like Grant Schultz. I have only one backyard that I am farming in, along with my own property, with hopes to grow in the future in order to bring local, sustainable, low-fossil fuel produce to my neighbors and community. I heard about Versaland Farm because another Urban Farmer, a man named Curtis Stone, posted Schultz's video. Curtis Stone has 147,000 people subscribed to his Youtube Channel. His video about Schultz was posted about 12 hours ago on September 10, 2017. As of 10 PM on 10 September, it has 6,785 views (In the 1.5 hours it took me to write and edit this email before sending, the number of views increased to 7,651. I expect around ten thousand people will have seen this video by the time you folks read this email on Monday morning).
To this email, I have BCCed a number of my friends around the world, all of whom are interested in supporting local businesses, sustainable agriculture, and responsible solutions to many of the economic, social, and environmental concerns that face our nation and world. Additionally, I've BCCed all your local media outlets. I will also be posting this email, along with Schultz's video, to my Facebook page, my blog, and to several areas on Reddit.
I understand that Versaland Farm, which has been in operation for four years, is having some difficulty staying in business because this year, Johnson County changed many of the laws that allow Versaland to engage in multi-use small-scale agriculture. I understand that their primary business, a customer-pick orchard that has recently started bearing fruit, is now illegal to operate. Additionally, I'm aware that their need to provide safe, comfortable, year-round housing to the various employees, volunteers, students, and so-on that they have on the farm year round is now illegal due to Johnson County zoning and residential policies. Despite their attempt to address Johnson County concerns by applying for a change in zoning from Agricultural to Agricultural-Residential (and spending a fair amount of money on the licenses and permits they need to do so), their application has been rejected. The rejection of that application, as well as the illegality of running a customer-pick orchard, basically means that the farm can no longer operate.
Versaland Farm provides jobs for multiple people, has been intentionally designed to be regenerative for the land it is on, minimizes fossil fuel use, provides high-quality food to the local community, and serves as an educational center for students and people from around the world. As a small-scale farmer, as well as customer of many of the excellent customer-pick orchards we have in my county, you might imagine that the thought that another farmer is no longer able to practice his craft due to an excess of bureaucracy disheartens me.
Of course, I don't know the whole story. I only know the information that Schultz has posted on his website and included in his video. Maybe he's in the wrong here, and started many of these enterprises on his farm against pre-existing Johnson County laws and policies. Maybe he's only trying to legally accomplish his operations now that he's grown big enough to monetize them, and is coming up against land-use issues that he should have taken into account before he started his enterprise. As an outsider, I admit my ignorance regarding your local politics and policies. If Schultz is in the wrong, I hope that even despite the confusion and misunderstanding that is currently taking place between him and the county, all of you can work together to ensure that a small-scale farmer who is working to provide jobs in his local community can continue doing what he does best with a minimum of red tape and extra cost. Johnson County could become a role model for the nation--a place that works to support local community agriculture, a place that demonstrates through their laws and policies that they truly value sustainability, and a place that fosters a real sense that government officials are paying attention to the needs and desires of their average, working-class constituents instead of corporate or moneyed interests.
I know the folks on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors are keen to ensure that your land use policies and zoning regulations are supportive of your local community and your sustainability efforts. I think Schultz and folks like him who are putting their money where their mouths are deserve your utmost support and appreciation, and so I hope that you can take a second look at your policies and find a way to ensure that Versaland Farm--as well as other mixed-use small-time farmers that are in your area--has the ability to continue operations in a safe and legal way without having to jump through unnecessary and expensive (or ultimately impossible) hoops. I also know that if sustained media attention gets focused on your county because of my efforts and the efforts of people like me all over the world, your laws, policies, and regulations and the interpretation thereof will be above reproach.
In order to encourage the folks I've BCCed on this email to reach out to you and express their opinions, I'm including your contact info below. Your emails are in the "To" line above if folks would like to email all of you at once.
I hope you have an excellent week.
Johnson County Office Phone: 319-356-6000
Kurt M. Friese