The panelists will be Kenneth Green, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Planning and Development Council; Marty Rice, a member of the Frederick County, Md., Planning Commission and organic farmer; Louis Nichols, agriculture development officer with the Loudoun County, Va., Department of Economic Development; David Lillard, president of the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle; and Lyle "Cam" Tabb, a dairy and crop farmer and member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.
The group will mull over such questions as:
Do area farms make economic sense?
Would the Frederick County (Md.) or Loudoun County (Va.) models work for this area?
What choices are there?
What do area farmers need?
Buckner said she understands develop is going to happen in Jefferson County, which is already listed as part of the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.
But more has to be done to protect the rural areas remaining in the county, said Buckner, who lives in a housing development about two miles outside of Shepherdstown next to a large farm.
"The rural lands are disappearing rapidly. You see signs appearing everywhere of land for sale," Buckner said.
Tabb has been farming all of his life and owns a 1,050-acre farm in Leetown, W.Va.
"We have to react in a positive way rather than getting angry and saying we're going to be overrun by houses and there's nothing we can do about it," Tabb said.
He worries that housing developments could completely take over farms in Jefferson County.
"I'm afraid that's closer than we think," he said.
Tabb said officials have to look at ways to preserve the farm land, while not taking away property owners' rights to sell it.
Susan Nash, executive director of the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, said preserving rural land is important not just for farmers, but for all of the community.
Nash said about 10,000 housing plats have been approved in recent years on land that once consisted of rural fields.
"Farm land is turning over at a rapid rate," Nash said.
"My personal opinion is the economy as a whole is better off if agricultural production is diversified and spread out around the country," Nash said.
Food also tastes better when it is produced in the neighborhood, rather than grown in California and shipped across the country, she said.
When rural lands are made into subdivisions, the increased population means increased traffic and more students attending schools, causing overcrowding, Buckner said.
For more information about the forum, call 1-304-876-0690 or 1-304-876-1018.