Scott County's farmers lost their voice for a little while. But they have it back.
An advisory group aimed at giving the agriculture community a say in the future uses of the countryside has been restored and renamed after being quietly jettisoned late last year.
And the group's new chairwoman couldn't be happier.
"It's very encouraging to see a continued interest in having a group such as this move forward," said Jennifer Jensen, who operates a small farm with her husband in Sand Creek Township near Jordan.
She and others on the panel were startled to hear that it had been "sunsetted," in the words of an e-mail from a county official.
Today there's so much interest among county commissioners in joining the group that not all of them can be squeezed in, said board Chairman Tom Wolf.
"Dave Menden has expressed interest, Joe [Wagner] and I have interest, and we can't all be on it because of the open meeting law," he said. "So one of us will have to be an alternate. But it's good that there's plenty of interest."
With the officers of the new group all coming out of the new-wave organic and natural small-farming sector, and with some representatives of conventional large-scale agriculture falling away, the challenge will be to keep the group fully representative of the diversity of farming in the county, Jensen conceded.
"We're looking into that and will discuss it," she said. "We plan to publicize through the county what's going on with the new group and that it's open to newcomers to join. Plus, anyone's free to come to any meeting. We can't force a person to come, but the door's open. We're sensitive to that."
The county has said that small-scale, high-value farming may well be the future for a county in the metro area.
With nearly 120,000 acres still being farmed in Scott, a 2009 report said, "The historic trends in Scott County indicate a substantial increase in farms that are 10-49 acres in size, and a corresponding decrease in farms that are 50-99 acres and 100-219 acres." The average is about 150 acres.
A furor arose a few years ago when the county was drawing up its latest long-range comprehensive plan. The plan called for the suburbanization of much of the western part of the county.
The county had consulted with its traditional rural stakeholders -- township officials and the like. But it was caught off guard when a public hearing on the plan turned into several hours of passionate testimony, much of it from a new breed of local-food advocates.
The unhappiness continued when the plan went to the Metropolitan Council. There it was listed officially as having no known opposition, even though the dissidents had gone so far as to bring in a nonprofit law center, the Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG), to draft letters questioning the plan.
The creation of an official farm advisory group was the county's effort to defuse the situation. It resulted in some tweaks, including changes to rules governing on-site sales of farm goods. Earlier this year, FLAG pronounced itself happy with what had transpired.
With development in rural areas almost totally evaporating -- new platting of township land this year is down to less than a trickle, from what was once a torrent -- some at the county level were inclined to let the farm group lapse.
But even now the county is laying plans for ideas like future highways through farm country. It's the kind of thing that advocates want to be a part of.
The group is still very much in the phase of just getting itself reestablished, Jensen said. But she said "corridor studies" -- plans for new or expanded roadways -- will certainly be a key topic.
Addressing county board colleagues, Wolf spoke of a "resurrection" of the board. Jensen prefers the earlier analogy:
"They said 'sunsetted?' Well, the sun is rising now. We're excited."
David Peterson • 952-746-3285