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Serving: Central

Erosion of elbow room

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Tennessee is one of the highest-ranked states for population growth. Is farmland in danger?
In the Midsouth, where agriculture continues to drive the economy, we’ve seen our elbow room erode at a much slower pace. Maybe that’s about to change.

We had a new family at church on Sunday. They had recently moved to our small Tennessee town from Washington state. They had grown tired of the politics in their home state, and the husband, who worked in law enforcement, said he was demoralized by his work environment and lack of support from the community and local government. 

So, they searched for an area that more closely aligned with their values and lifestyle and settled on western Tennessee. Sight unseen, they purchased a home and seven acres and made the cross-country move. 

Coincidentally, there was another family visiting our church that same day who had just moved to the area from Oregon. They, too, had purchased a home and a few acres just outside of town. Their reasons for relocating were similar, but the two families were not related or even acquaintances. 

What are the odds that two unconnected families from the Northwest move to the same Tennessee community of around 17,000 people within a few weeks of each other? Better than you would think, according to the Oregon father. 

“There’s a lot more of us coming,” he confidently assured me. 

U-Haul, which tracks the net gain of one-way trucks entering a state versus those leaving a state, found that in 2021 Tennessee ranked third nationally in growth, following Texas and Florida. Overall, migration to southern states continued to be a trend, as did the major exodus away from large cities that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed the area surrounding Nashville explode with population growth and development, so it’s no surprise to see Tennessee ranked highly. But in rural western Tennessee, where agriculture continues to drive the economy, we’ve seen our elbow room erode at a much slower pace. Maybe that’s about to change. 

As more people move to our area — whether relocating from other regions of the U.S. or immigrating from foreign countries — how will urban sprawl reshape the Midsouth landscape? I can’t fault anyone for wanting to move here. With low cost of living, mild winters, friendly people, and some of the best food on the planet, what’s not to love? (Well, besides tornadoes, fire ants, and summertime heat and humidity that may have you hearing wailing and gnashing of teeth.)  

In a study published by Numbers USA, data showed that since 2002, sprawl has devoured open space in our country at a rate of 1,200 square miles per year, or about 3.3 square miles per day. Over the past 40 years, Tennessee has lost 2,300 square miles to urban sprawl. Mississippi has lost more than 1,200 square miles. 

Leaders at the state, local and even federal level are going to have to make hard choices in the years ahead to preserve open space, waterways and viable farmland. 

TAGS: Farm Life
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