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Last week, three young men came to talk to me, concerned about some doings in their neighborhood. It seems a big dairy is thinking of planting a huge new branch next to them.

It’s a tough situation. I’m not anti-development.  A couple of years ago I was a member of a planning and zoning board that made a pro-development decision about a quarry that some people are still angry about.

At least, I think they’re still angry.  I know people who haven’t spoken to me in two years, in part because during a meeting I said, “We do not live in an impact-free world.”

I can understand why those folks didn’t like my decision, but I still don’t understand why they didn’t like what I said.  It seems like simple truth.  Whatever we do has consequences.  If we approved the quarry, certain people would be affected, and if we didn’t, different people would be affected.  Life is full of consequences and part of being a grownup is trying to weigh those possible consequences and choose between them.

So, when I think of the file full of hate mail I still have in my desk from my probusiness decision a couple years ago, I believe I have some credibility when talking about the subject.  However, I have to admit that I have a blind spot when it comes to the folks who seem like they want to own the world - people who develop farms from 1,000 acres to 10,000 and beyond, those who build giant businesses with no concern for their neighbors. To me, the difference between a 1,000-acre farm and a 10,000-acre farm is nine families who don’t live here anymore because there’s no land for them.

But maybe that’s just me.

I like it when people make money.  Businesses that do well mean more money spent in lumberyards, hardware stores, and restaurants.  It’s a better tax base that helps provide good schools and decent roads - a trickle effect of money moving through the whole local economy.  But it’s my opinion that 10, 20, or 50 moderate-size businesses trickle a lot more money than one giant business.

There are only half as many people living in our county as lived here 50 years ago.  Now, I know that if you’re going to raise corn and soybeans you can’t make a living on a quarter or two of land like you could back then, but the key question is, “When is enough enough?”

It seems like a fair question.

Like most folks, I‘d do most anything to support my family, so if I needed a little more land in order to put food on the table for my children, I’d trample over almost anyone to do so.  But we’re not talking about that.  If you look at most land sales around the area, you’re seeing wealthy people looking to become wealthier and I wonder, “Why?”

I clearly remember 30 years ago hearing a big farmer say, “In 20 years, there will only be six farmers in Big Stone County and I’m going to be one of them.” That particular guy is long gone, all his land is in other hands, and last week when I mentioned his name in conversation no one remembered him at all.

I’m sure his vision of the future for our area would have been very efficient at cranking out agricultural commodities.

It just wouldn’t have been a place where I wanted to live.

Copyright 2013 Brent Olson

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