Our Region

Agriculture has been, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to the economy of Jackson County. In 2008 Jackson County farmers had more than $77 million in farm sales, and this does not include additional agriculture dependent businesses such as Harry & David and Amy’s Kitchen. In all, thousands of jobs depend on agriculture. And agriculture depends on the continued existence of land suitable for agriculture.

Jackson County has a limited supply of high quality farmland, and most of that is located on the floor of the Bear Creek Valley. Unfortunately, so are the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville and Eagle Point. When the cities want to expand their boundaries, they do so at the expense of agricultural land.

How Cities Expand Their Footprint

When a city in Oregon wants to expand its boundaries, it must demonstrate to the state that it needs more land to accommodate an expected increase in population. Under the process typically followed in Oregon, once a city makes that demonstration it then looks at the surrounding land, and, following state guidelines, chooses which lands it will move into. Although high quality farmland is supposed to be included only as a last resort, it is not off limits and is frequently included in proposals.

Although the County must ultimately agree to the city’s proposal, the process is generally driven by the city, and the city’s interests are almost always considered as paramount.

Citizens Working on an Age Old Conflict

The 1990s saw the beginning of a period of unprecedented growth in the population of Jackson County. At that time a group of civic leaders and agriculturalists noted with alarm that significant amounts of the region’s limited agricultural lands were being lost to inefficient urban sprawl. With those lands, jobs were being lost. So they decided to do something about it.

In 1995 a group came together to start discussing this problem and what to do about it. Initially made up of farmers and other concerned citizens, the group continued to meet regularly and slowly grew to include a broader variety people. The effort eventually gained some notice in the region, and with that status it was given a name: Our Region.

With such a variety of interests represented, it was difficult to achieve full consensus on every point. However, in December of 1999 the group coalesced around some critical ideas and issued their recommendations in the form of a final report.

A New Approach

Our Region participants recognized that their proposal “would have to make a significant recommendation to have any possibility of protecting the viability of the region’s best farmland.” Thus, they took a radically different approach from business as usual.

An assessment was conducted of the agricultural land in the valley. The result of the assessment was a map identifying where the best and most significant farmland was located. That land would be included in a “Farmland Conservation Zone” (FCZ), and would be off-limits for future urban expansion. If cities then had to grow in size they would do so on other lands. Lands around all of the cities were designated for agricultural use and for future urban expansion.

The Farmland Conservation Zone

Our Region recognized that simply protecting land from urbanization did not guarantee that it could be farmed economically. Although the FCZ came with a prohibition against further parcelization, the emphasis was on the encouragement of agricultural viability within the zone. Strategies to encourage farming included the following:

  • Replace the differentiation between farm and nonfarm dwellings by a documented determination of whether or not a new dwelling will facilitate agricultural use of the land. If it does not or will not facilitate farming, it would not be allowed.
  • Facilitate cluster-farming of contiguous small holdings by allowing the combined farm income of several parcels to permit each small holding to obtain a farm assessment.
  • Create a mechanism for the restoration of a farm assessment for actively farmed properties that have been disqualified in the past.
  • Authorize temporary housing on new farm land, or existing farming areas under new owners, pending a final decision on whether or not a permanent dwelling will be permitted.
  • Allow a greater degree of conversion of agricultural products (value added) on farm properties.

Some of these proposals might have been difficult to implement—some may have required changes in state law. But there was strong agreement in the region that this was worth pursuing.

Consensus was so strong, in fact, that this proposal was the basis for grant applications and for the original concept for the Regional Problem Solving (RPS) process that began in 2000.



Read about What RPS was supposed to be

Read the original Our Region Farmland Conservation Zone proposal

Read the full Our Region Final Report (this is an 8mb pdf file)

Click to Return to Regional Problem Solving page.