Our Spearfish neighbors are holding an important meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Hudson Hall downtown. The Spearfish Ag Land Committee will discuss the preservation of agricultural land in the Spearfish Valley.

The discussion will likely revolve around the Runnings' property, a 15.4-acre tract near Evans Lane. The land is among the turf in Spearfish Valley, on the north side of Spearfish, that has long been used for farming but now is on the market. A local correspondent tells me that one development deal has fallen through; the property is listed online for $989,000. Developers see an opportunity to build housing to meet demand in a tight market. Advocates for agriculture and sustainability contend that the community is served at least as well by maintaining the Valley's agricultural traditions as well as some local economic diversity.

Ray Running bought his 15 acres* after serving in the Army Air Corps in Italy in World War II. According to Running's 2011 obituary, he claimed his Valley corn was the best corn in South Dakota. Running used his SDSU education and his experience to teach agriculture to veterans in Meade County.

A local Spearfish correspondent sends me information from old-timer Linfred Schuttler, who farmed the Valley for strawberries, raspberries, and other produce. He says the Valley's orchards once supported exports across the Black Hills and to Wyoming and Nebraska. "There were thousands and thousands of apple trees," says Schuttler, "all the way down to the Redwater before there were stands. People would come in the fall with their wagons for miles.” Schuttler is worried that housing development in the Valley will cause more of the irrigation ditches that have boosted the Valley's productivity will be filled in. "Once they're lost," says Schuttler, "they can't be regained."

Can Spearfish have more housing and healthy local food? Tonight's meeting at Hudson Hall will give Spearfish residents the chance to wrestle with that question. Having rented in Spearfish, I recognize the need for affordable housing for workers and families in the Queen City. But I also recognize the unique value of the fertile Spearfish Valley as an economic resource for small, independent farmers. Spearfish needs to figure out the proper balance between these competing aspects of quality of life.

Update 2015.02.03 15:08 CST: An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed additional information about Ray Running's land purchase to a Spearfish resident who, in turns out, has no knowledge about Running's history. I have edited out that information and apologize for the error.