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Take a look at farmer Kathy Cooper and ask yourself if you would look this happy if you had walked away from $20-million.

Ms. Cooper has spent her whole life in Abbotsford, on land bought by her father in 1926. When she was a child, only four other families were her neighbours.

More families moved in through the years. A dozen new neighbours, then 100 of them, set up their lives in an area where cows used to outnumber people.

Ms. Cooper once knew everyone who lived nearby. But as more houses were built around her and families moved in, she could no longer keep track of her neighbours.

The neighbours, however, could keep track of her. She has never sold her 27 hectares of land and never changed the way her family farmed on McMillan Road in Abbotsford as the Fraser Valley town grew larger and larger around her.

Little changed for decades. Ms. Cooper and her two sisters had careers off the farm. Her siblings moved away, but Ms. Cooper stayed on the land, helping her father with the cattle, fixing fences and building barns. Then developers came knocking on the door of their small farmhouse.

Her father turned them away. After Ms. Cooper's father died in 1977, it was her turn to tell the developers she wasn't interested. Not interested in selling the land for $12-million, then $14-million and not even $20-million.

Jake Siemens, president of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, paused when asked whether Ms. Cooper's land is really worth $20-million.

"Twenty million? That must have been a while ago. It's worth a lot more now," he said. "People have realized through the years that no matter how much money is being offered, she's never going to sell."

Abbotsford, home to 131,000 people, had the fastest-growing economy in the country last year, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Realtors boast that commuters can make the drive from Vancouver to Abbotsford in 35 to 45 minutes. But on a typical workday, the drive can top out at 90 minutes.

Nevertheless, Abbotsford's booming economy has made the region desirable for increasing numbers of people. For a decade the landlocked city has been hungry for more land to feed its growth. Recently, nearly 200 hectares of farmland once protected under the agricultural land reserve was released for industrial development.

Abbotsford has to balance the big changes, said Peter Andzans, environmental manager for the city. Its growth is not new, nor is it different from the changes Vancouver and Toronto contended with in past decades.

"I firmly believe there are many Kathy Coopers everywhere. They are people who have different values. And my personal view is someone like Ms. Cooper lends wealth to the culture of a community," Mr. Andzans said.

"There are always two sides of every story, however, and as much as we laud her perseverance and strength in values, we have to recognize as the city grows, there could be a benefit to the community from other uses of the land."

Ms. Cooper has heard those arguments. She understands people wanting to move to Abbotsford. But for the retired elementary-school principal whose favourite subject as a teacher was math, the concept of $20-million is as inconsequential as $20.

She has often been told that she could live anywhere she wanted to and do whatever she wanted with that kind of money. Her answer has remained the same: "I'm doing what I want and I'm living where I want. I don't want to go anywhere else or do anything else. I can't imagine doing anything else."

She has never wanted to get up later than 4:45 each morning to milk her cows. A life of leisure and travel is such a strange concept to her that she has to think about why she would want it. Although she has visited family in Wyoming and played tourist in Niagara Falls, Ont., nothing compares to being on her own land.

She runs the farm with help from workers who live on her property and others who come in after their day jobs. Daisy, her German shepherd, is always nearby.

"This is my home and this is where the cows and Daisy call home. I couldn't tell them they have to go elsewhere," she said. "There are still things I want to do on the land."

Each year, Ms. Cooper, who declined to give her age, has a project to get done on her farm. A few years ago, it was building a white barn; another year it was planting white cedar trees. In 1984, she had a two-year plan to clear six hectares of her property so the cows would have a pasture to graze. Every weekend for two years, Ms. Cooper and her farm workers cleared bushes and trees. From a distance, the pasture, surrounded by houses, looks like any soccer field or park in a suburb. Only this one, worth millions, is where her cows spend their days.

The cows have a view of the traffic whizzing past on McMillan Road and can see the signs advertising new developments around the corner from Ms. Cooper's land.

Realtor Hank Van Nes, who works with many developers in Abbotsford, remembers riding his bike past Ms. Cooper's cows as a child.

"For as long as I can remember, that farm has been there. I admire her. She has held her ground," he said.

Since Ms. Cooper's farm was recently profiled in the Abbotsford Times, she has heard from former students, friends and neighbours. Ms. Cooper, who never married, said some think it's foolish to hang on to the land while others believe she is doing the right thing.

As for what will happen with the land when she's gone, Ms. Cooper won't confirm her plans.

Hilda Froese, whose children were taught by Ms. Cooper, said she misses the small town that Abbotsford once was when she was a child more than 60 years ago.

"When I see Ms. Cooper's place I remember what Abbotsford used to be like. I don't blame her for holding on to that for the rest of us to see that there's a bit of that left in the world."

Former Vancouver resident Pamela Ullock, who lives close to the farm, said the view of Ms. Cooper's property from her window was the clincher in her family's decision to move to Abbotsford. It is a view of land untouched by modern urgencies.

"Ms. Cooper was a teacher and she's still teaching us," she said. "I think almost every person in the world would sell for $20-million, but we would all wish we wouldn't if something meant that much to us."