Land-use struggles

Olafur Brentmar peace at
Sun Aug 25 12:57:11 EDT 1996

Dear Tinker Bubblers !

We read with curiosity about your struggles and must share our own
experience,  along the same lines but with a different twist. We are
located in southwestern Oregon, where strict land use laws have been in
effect since 1973. A primary goal of these laws is to save farmland and
increase agricultural production. All development on farmland is
prohibited; even permits for farmhouses are tightly controlled.

Peace Garden Institute (PGI), was incorporated in 1982 with the principle
that diversified organic agricultural and forest land management,
integrated with small-scale cottage industries, will create and sustain a
viable economy while engaging in constructive ecological solutions. Seeing
the demise of the timber industry we were convinced that agriculture with
value-added processing of farm crops would create a stronger and more
sustainable rural economy.

In 1995, our organization, PGI, a non profit school of horticulture &
sustainable living applied for a special use permit to establish a small
residental school.We argued to provide education in the full cycle of
agricultutre (from seed to table to compost to seedling again), both
instructors and apprentices needed to live on the farm. We also requested a
licensed food kitchen to process the food produced on the farm. According
to the local county officials,  the loss of 1/4 acre of farmland for
facilities (dormatories, processing kitchen, library, and class rooms) out
of the total 156 acre farm could not be justified. The agricultural
profitablitiy of our proposed farm/school management plan was ten fold over
current use, and yet we were denied the permit.

In a Kafkian trial, the local land use laws were used as social engineering
tools to legitimize bigotry. Most of the testimony against us revolved
around unfounded fears and suspicions about our connections to a
"counter-culture lifestyle".  After months of hearings with neighbors and
government officials, the application was denied for 17 different reasons,
none of which were valid. 

We appealed the denial and spent three years in court litigation. In August
1995, Oregon Supreme Court ruled in our favor. The high court declared that
establishment of schools and churches are a 'use of right' and not subject
to regulation from local governments.

In an unprecedented move, our local county government has refused to
recognize the Supreme Court ruling. We are left with little option but to
take them to court again. All this litigation is moving at a snails' pace,
and our landlord wants to sell the property. We had intended to purchase
the farm when we leased here 4 years ago, with income generated from the
farm and school. Since we have been hanging in legal limbo, without a
clearance for a permit, grants for the school have been left on hold. 

We now stand to lose the property and are left with only the legal fees.
The last leg of the litigation is about to come to court in the next month
or so.

In many ways, we see sustainable agriculture programs and permaculture as a
natural and constructive backlash to the 'green revolutions' large
industrial approach. The rights of people to live on the land, with the
land and from the land should not be denied. In this country, this idea is
counter to the interests of big agri- business. There is also great public
misconception of the socio-economic benefits of sustainable communal
living. "Communes" here are portrayed as places for religious fanatics,
Communists', vegetarian freaks or Charles Mason murdering-types or more
recently heavily armed militia groups. There is little room for agrarian
communalists in a society so filled with such fears.

Being thus stuck in the web of land use laws and the politics of social
engineering we want to express our support for your endeavor as we seek to
bring constructive sanity to all our lives. We would like to further
collaborate in our common struggle to open the doors of perception so that
other sustainable agricultural projects can sprout and grow without

Peace is grown
Olafur Brentmar

                        Peace Garden Institute
           School of Horticulture and Sustainable Living
        1380 Hamilton Rd.   Jacksonville, Oregon 97530  USA
phone 541 899 1704;      fax 541 899 3904           peace at

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