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Holding Out for the Family Farm

March 1, 2000 | By Kelly Thayer
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Dean Edgecomb and his family operate one of the last independent small dairy farms in northern Michigan, keeping 50 cows and growing corn and hay on 140 acres crossed by Hammond Road in Garfield Township. The rolling land has been farmed since the 1870s, when it was settled by Mr. Edgecomb's great-great- grandmother, Callie Hammond.
Now the last working farmer on Hammond Road, Mr. Edgecomb remembers when every field within sight was devoted to farming. Today he's surrounded by a golf course, several subdivisions, two convenience stores, and an industrial park.
The Edgecombs already are facing formidable odds in the struggle to remain in business under an economic system that gives preferential treatment to mega livestock factories. Yet the widening of Hammond Road from two lanes to four in the mid-1990s, coupled with the proposal to turn it into a new highway bypass for Traverse City, is pushing them to the limit.
"Every year it gets harder and harder for me to farm with the traffic," said Mr. Edgecomb, who at 54 has farmed all his life. "If they put in the bypass, I'll probably be done farming, because you just can't fight the traffic [and cross the road] with your farm tractors and the equipment you pull."
Five years ago, Mr. Edgecomb said, the county Road Commission paid him just $25,000 to demolish his best barn to make room for the road widening. Replacing the barn would have cost $100,000, and he could not afford to do that. Then earth berms that were built alongside the road damaged how water drained from his fields. "My fields used to be able to take four to five inches of water before they were inaccessible," he said. "Now water stands after only about an inch. I lost my corn crop in 1996."
As the Edgecombs are discovering, one of the not-so-hidden costs of subsidizing sprawl is to drive family farmers out of business.

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