Our state's environmental future

sunset over a field

I love Ohio. Sometimes it's unbearably cold or uncomfortably hot, there are bad things in every place, but overall, this place is my home and has been a home for my family, friends and everything in my life. And I know it is home to so many others as well.

Some of the most precious parts of Ohio I strongly believe are the land, water systems, animals, as well as the people. I could tell you how Ohio lost ⅓ of its agricultural land between 1950-2000. I have been trying to compile statistics from the past two decades to see the more recent loss, because my personal experience leads me to feel that it is likely that loss has increased. Just one data range is that in totaling crop land, pastures, ranges, woodlands and forests, almost 50 million acres were developed over the period of 1992 to 2012.

I do not know the purpose of every development project and can honestly be overwhelmed by how much data the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the American Farmland Trust has (although I am very grateful for that). But what I can tell you is that the past 20 years has seen a lot of change in Northeast Ohio. Granted, I have not been around for all of it, but I have seen the world change so many times. Some of these changes have caused what I consider to be again, great loss, but the same have also brought unexpected good to my life. I have learned that these situations are sad, but nuanced, and that goes for all of this.

For example, I would like to believe that we all want the best for the environment (although I know it is not always true).  Even if we all did, some methods I thought were best at protecting the Earth turned out to be unsuitable for certain areas. Or a method one company uses to develop land or create energy may have a lot of context specific factors. Those people have jobs and families, and those new roads may connect more people to places they never had access to before. But in the process, wildlife and other people’s livelihood may be destroyed. I have seen a lot of environmental changes cause as much pain as they do joy. I think we need to understand the nuance, and especially Ohio’s history, in trying to pave a new way forward, if we want everyone to work together.

As much as the media portrays Ohio as just farmland, our state has millions of people and thousands of animals working and living in their rural, urban, or suburban communities. Each are important and impact the other. But for right now I am going to talk about what was lost in my home, a once rural area to a now suburban one.

To be completely honest I don’t remember a lot of the farm when I was young. I do know there was a farm and it was home to my family and a lot of wildlife. There were horses and cows, I think, and trees so tall you wouldn’t believe. It spread everywhere, through marshy land and fields and endless hills. It was the world. I have always heard it was beautiful. I don’t think it was a perfect place, because humans never are, but I know the plant life truly was important and for a time, there.

As I grew up though things kept on building. I am very lucky that I can walk and still find some trails to lead back to the woods that were there, and farms around us, and that much can still be vast and beautiful. I think that is one good thing a housing development can do (besides insure safe homes), keep some trails. 

There is a creek that connects to another creek, eventually to a river and I don’t think people see that when they look at it at all. They don’t see it’s all connected. There used to be fish in there. My family used it and I never saw it, but sometimes that makes me happy. This land was here for them as it is for people now, although much less.

When I was a few years younger than I am now, there were still the remaining farm lands, and the remaining woods. You can’t know how beautiful they were unless you were there. They eventually connected to the next county with full blown crop fields, stretching for miles and miles and miles. Deer had whole families undisturbed in the small forests. I really wish people could see how beautiful even just the vacant fields or stone paths are behind their new suburbs. I really wish they could see the sun across the different leaves, smell the tall grass, even get pricked by the thorns. Just to be reminded there is something else out there.

I went there so often. I really believe nature is there for everyone no matter what. But I wish so much now that I had visited more. It is one thing to live on a farm, or in a woods, as much of my relatives do, and to feel that emotional bond. Some of the best memories of my life were of riding horses on my aunt's farm because the entire world was fields and nothing stopped it.

But I think life has given me a unique situation because I have always lived by it. I’ve seen everything from different sides. I’ve been there enough to miss it and dread when its gone and see the aftermath. 

Building went on.

And I know in my heart things were not okay because I went to say goodbye many times, especially as the next, big development grew with bigger and bigger houses, closer and closer to the sagging soil where I know no one should really build on. I remember how they have to build little ponds or snake out larger ones on the outskirts of where the houses will be.

The worst thing visibly I remember was all the oil, or whatever it was in the ground, in the ponds, in the little streams. I remember how ugly it was. It was so bright and blaring, orange and yellow. Everything was so careless, to a place that was honestly so full of love. Maybe not vocally, but those places; every tree, every leaf pile, every mush pile and every field as far as you could see. Then nothing. A nothing so ugly.

Both of that was right there if people would just look.

People are so funny.

I remember a kid was so proud that his (recently very wealthy) dad was the one who made one of those neighborhoods possible. One of those fields with the oil veined through them and the fields burned back and the shape of the Earth permanently gone...We thought differently. 

But that is it, I know people don’t see all that. They see maybe perfectly beautiful things that I think everyone deserves like good plumbing, good heating, a place for their family.

And there were other benefits to these developments that I still think could have been much more environmentally responsible. Families had opportunities they may not have otherwise had. Great children grew up to be great people in better communities. When in researching the voting districts for my area I was not surprised to see that my local districts were very homogeneously Caucasian. I think that is a factor we can’t ignore especially about land ownership in the Midwest. 

But the percent of people within the voting district of what was the farms, that almost use to be entirely white, rose in people of color. It rose in immigrant families.

A very slow and steady raise in percent but it happened. I think that’s beyond wonderful.

(And honestly I do not think that is something that my paternal grandfather expected when he sold the land).

I certainly did not expect when I was five or however young and the first construction came that out of that desolation would come so many beautiful people that would make my life happier. They’re my friends, they’re my classmates. I have had the best times at parties in those very houses. My friends little siblings have held my hands and showed me flowers on their lawns which is very funny to me, but I'm so glad to have seen that. The land loss and continual contaminating of the environment still makes me sad. But out of a loss came so much new beautiful life.

So I think these situations are so complicated.

But after all that, here is what I think is not so nuanced or complicated:

  • It is not okay for construction or realtor companies or anyone to dump potentially toxic chemicals into muddy land, streams, creeks, ponds or rivers, just because they can.
  • I truly believe that Ohio’s nature is more important than aesthetically pleasing large houses for upper-middle class people and we have got to slow down as a state.
  • If there are those housing developments which are more and more, please keep up with environmental standards when building and use some of the space to promote at least an awareness of nature for the kids who will grow up there. I truly believe it could change their life.
  • Okay just who had that audacity to name all these places ‘preserves’ and such? Seriously please stop. Stop giving people false perceptions. 

Im happy I can be more at peace with all this now but I think there is a good lesson in that I was not always like this. I was a really angry kid for a lot of reasons. Out of their own choice, a lot of my family history died to these developments and in my young mind, it seemed to worsen because of what happened in that lot. I was young and as children do I conflated the things I didn’t have with the only events I knew. But there is always so much we don’t know. That's some advice to the younger youth on here- there might be a different side to something, a good side you just cannot see right now. 

The thing is I have had my whole life to think about all this. Nothing that happened these past two decades was perfect. It was certainly not always done right, and I am talking about environmental-community relations, not just my home. And I know I really did love the nature that was there and even is still there in parts today. It was with me. I never felt alone. And the new communities make people feel together.

So now we as Ohio have the next twenty years to live on, and I with the knowledge of that. The last fields here are going now. I could try to tell how beautiful the woods are. As I go to college and maybe never come back, I am guessing they will go. But I am not letting the rest of the state fade out like that too.

As I said, I love Ohio. I love the people in it and I love the nature. I want to work out ways to be good to both.

This story is just one of the reasons why I care about the future of not just Ohio, but the Midwest so deeply.

Guys we need a health plan, and an environment plan.

This was just one story about rich northeast Ohio. I could talk for hours about how much all of Ohio owes to our farmers, especially the women in rural and poor communities. Please just talk to a farmer or farmer family person and buy their fruit. Ask them how their day was. Ask them what their favorite thing to cook is. Don’t treat them like they are already going.

Last note:

Ohio again appreciate your Amish communities. They are probably going to have to be the ones to hold the land down.

An important people to the Midwest are the Mennonites and some of my maternal family were/are so I am very proud and biased. But it is indeed a thing in their religion/way of thinking that the Earth is part of your life. If it is not, there is something wrong. Everyone should appreciate it, and let yourself feel it. Maybe its in my soul maybe its psychological or situational whatever the reason.

We have to do something. Ohio needs help y’all and its going to affect you one way or another.

United States of America