Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Sustainable Food and Farming

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Dr. Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Josh Slotnick, Dr. David Shively


planning, agriculture, urban sprawl, farmland, conservation, farmland protection, agricultural land conservation, zoning


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Agriculture | Environmental Studies | Food Studies | Geography


Urban sprawl reflects an inefficient use of land that diminishes both rural landscapes and quality of life turning farms, ranches and open space into siloed suburban communities. This results in less walkable cities with more traffic and air pollution, among other negative consequences. Farmland constitutes a particularly important resource that often faces degradation or loss due to sprawl. Higher quality agricultural soils are particularly desirable for development because they are flat and well-drained. Farmland is also important for urban communities concerning food security, environmental health, and economic well being. As American cities continue to grow, farmland around urban areas has become threatened by development pressure, affecting both the urban cores and the rural areas around them.

Many agriculture and food system advocates have looked to zoning as a solution to farmland loss. An agricultural-exclusive zoning code on a parcel of land can protect it from non-agricultural uses and suburban development. My research looks into how four counties have used agricultural zoning to preserve their peri-urban agricultural land. These four counties are King County, WA; Sonoma County CA; Ventura County, CA; and Dane County, WI. I looked at the intent, impact, successes and challenges that these four counties have dealt with when implementing tools such as agricultural-exclusive districts, specific agricultural-exclusive codes, and incentive programs, to name a few. Through research consisting of reviewing peer reviewed journals and city and county planning websites combined with phone interviews with county planners, I gained insight into particular issues of other counties, and how they address these community-specific issues.

My paper concludes with recommendations for Missoula County, which is currently in the process of rewriting its zoning codes and experiencing the threat loss of farmland due to sprawl. These recommendations include producing a comprehensive farmland preservation plan, adopting three agricultural-exclusive zoning codes, implementing a points-based incentive program, and establishing a technical assistance grant program for small ag businesses. These recommendations reflect the comprehensive nature that each county I researched had incorporated in their farmland preservation plans.



© Copyright 2018 Kaitlin McCafferty