here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold

24 February 2005

18 February 2005

Turkey Talk

The day after she left, I decided to check out a ridge where in the past she and I had spotted a huge gobbler and his merry companions. It was mid-morning, I was really on a tree planting mission, but since I had the Lil' Pardner 12 ga., some shells, and my Gobbler bag in the jeep, I decided what the hell. I peeked around the corner of the wood lot and there they were. Low-crawling to a tree-turned-fencepost, I hastily set up a decoy and began calling. I heard gobbling immediately. I was sitting in a small valley, in what was a natural funnel from my larger field into a smaller hay field. The gobbling was coming from over the little ridge, getting closer. In moments, as my heart rate increased, I saw one, then two, then three, then finally four huge turkey fans just over the ridge. They slowly advanced, like sails on the horizon. I already had my gun up, and began to be concerned that I might not be able to hold the position eternally. Finally, the fellow furthest left spotted my decoy and trotted a bit, then displayed mightily.

Two things then startled me. First, just to my left in the hedgerow I heard some hens. They were trying to move on an intercept path between the toms and the hen decoy. Its funny how one can recognize the siren call, even of species not your own. Second, out of nowhere, a fifth gobbler appeared. My spontaneous hunt suddenly became a surreal event. This gobbler was magnificent, huge, a red, white and blue miracle. He puffed up and took the wind out of the other four turkey's sails. His head was white, spooky, more goblin then gobbler. He was 30 yards, right at the crest of the ridge. He liked his options, he liked his role. The intercepting hens were alarming me, and this guy was taking my breath away.

I spent five minutes waiting for him to be clear of his companions, not wanting an overspray problem. But the hens were out-competing my deaf, dumb, mostly mute facsimile, my rubber decoy damsel. Then, as I feared, the turkey God began to slip behind the ridge! Still no shot and agonizing waiting...but finally he gobbled, his head briefly a solo and safe target. The ���Pardner��� rang out, that simple, elegant single shot 12 gauge...and missed. In a flurry the whole party flew to the end of the field. I hoped against hope that I had connected, but I sensed that I was low, my shot making a puff of dust at the ridge crest. I searched for feathers, searched for blood, then searched the woods where the fleeing flock flew, for three hours. Not a sign, but oh how I wanted to find a mound of feathers. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing but a sick sinking feeling and a new addiction. I hunt wild turkeys now. I don���t know what she does.

17 February 2005

Farm as Sanctuary

Not long ago I listened to a group of farmers discussing the problem of livestock agriculture getting a series of media "black eyes." As one might expect, the discussion resulted in clear no-nonsense consensus that something must be done. However, a less visible second outcome also became apparent. It seems that many in the agriculture community feel that agriculture is under siege. This sentiment is alarming to me, because as any former army trooper can attest, sieges are messy things. This is not to say that agriculture hasn���t taken more than its share of low blows in recent memory, or that some sectors within agriculture, and even some local farmers, haven���t taken it on the chin. One need only to look to Schuyler County���s most recent livestock burglary case to see that agriculture issues are increasingly becoming contentious, complex, and newsworthy. But is agriculture under siege? In a siege, nobody escapes untouched, and the casualties run high. Let us hope our important agricultural communities are not under siege. Rather, let us consider the possibility that agriculture, collectively, is being challenged, and that agriculture is up to the task. More importantly, let us join as communities to give our farmers sanctuary.
In rising to the challenge, agriculture, broadly speaking, must remember its collective competitive and comparative advantages as an industry and avoid internal fragmentation or being divided and conquered by those who would seek to gain by pitting one camp under the "Ag tent" against another. Who else can lay claim to such a market in terms of demand, where 100% of the population is a food consumer? The challenge for agriculture is to get away from the "Agriculture Under Siege" mentality, a reactive stance, while developing a more proactive self-image that emphasizes the agriculture community���s critical role as the provider of the safest, most secure and abundant food supply the world has ever known.
Rather than think of agriculture as an industry under attack, and I am not naš░┐ve to the realities of what is happening to farmers and the industry, our local agriculture businesses must capitalize on what they are, and what the public in fact wants them to be. They are farmers, or they support farmers. Family farmers who live on farms; bucolic, country havens of humans striving to live in harmony with nature. Farms that are indeed sanctuaries, not in name only or because they "rescue" the odd sick pig or lamb, but because they are where the animals are, where the soil is, where the tears and the toil translate into good food. Yes, the farm is a sanctuary. Sanctuary implies holiness, and that is appropriate because food is sacred, and its production is salvation. Land is sacred too, and farmers are stewards of the good green earth.
In today���s industrialized, technical, urbanized, rush-rush world of abstractions, the simple reality of the farm is the key. The farm is a powerful symbol, a comfort and an elixir for the fears of our edgy techno citizens. The symbol of the farm must not be hijacked by extremists who promote scientifically sketchy theories or who hold narrow philosophical views shared by only a minority. The phrase "Factory Farm" must be studied. Is it accurate? Oxymoronic? Appropriate? Whatever the verdict, we can agree that a successful farm is often a "Family Farm." A "Family Farm" should be the phrase we use, and it should be our symbol, our banner. With this in mind, it is important to safeguard the family farm, and protect whatever lies within its borders from those who would attempt to undermine or sabotage the efforts of farmers to continue producing our food. Equally important is the acknowledgment by farmers of their environmental responsibilities, and their continuing commitment to refining methods to leave our Finger Lakes farms better than we found them, for the next generation of producers and consumers, and for the creatures that share our fields and pastures.
A farmer is a symbol of strength, of security, of hard work, of the realization of dreams, of patience and perseverance, and of family values. These are the most American of ideals, and in our current state of heightened security and threat analysis, farmers and their farms have a unique opportunity to re-establish themselves as the every day heroes of food security. America���s quality farms, our farms right here in the Finger Lakes, and our committed farmers, are the best in the world, quietly and resolutely serving as The Vanguard of America���s Security. That is American agriculture's most powerful and positive message to the rest of America, and to the world. It bears repeating, our farms are sanctuaries. Let us think twice about allowing them to be defiled, or worse, disappear.

14 February 2005

National Ag Day and Community Planning

National Agriculture Day and Community Planning

The Town of Fayette, like many towns in New York's Finger Lakes region, is a farm town, and agriculture is the Town���s principal land use. Farmers and the business men and women who support farms are the backbone of the local economy. As National Agriculture Day approaches, it would do us all well to thank a farmer, for growing our food, for providing for our wildlife and natural resources, and for making our home in the Finger Lakes uniquely beautiful.

While we thank farmers, we should be thankful for farming, as an occupation, as a lifestyle, as an education, and even as a hobby. We should be glad for the soil, for the green that grows upon it and sustains us and the animals we consume. We should be grateful for the blood, sweat, and tears that have been spilled working the ground, for the thoughtful ingenuity that farming brought about, called Progress. And while we thank farmers, and are thankful for farming, let us also give thanks for land, for without land, it is difficult to farm, to be a farmer, or to benefit from and enjoy farming. As Will Rogers once said: ���Land--they ain���t making any more of it.���

In some places, land, farm land, is being lost completely and forever. In other places, the storm clouds of sprawl and unplanned development are just appearing on the horizon. Thankfully, farmers are planners, and in towns in the Finger Lakes like Fayette and Varick, the time to plan is now.

Farming, often a risk prone business, gets more difficult to sustain in areas that undergo rapid residential growth. Prime farmland, especially along or overlooking a lake, is highly developable and can be sold at prices that far exceed its agricultural value. For a struggling farmer, or any farmer with an eye towards retirement, the pressure to sell farmland for development is intense. Yet, when one farm goes, the neighboring farms have to deal with rising land prices and therefore rising taxes, additional development pressures, increasing conflicts with non-farm neighbors, and a general increase in the cost of doing business. As Washington County dairy farmer George Houser was quoted as saying, ���You lose agricultural land one house at a time.���

The American Farmland Trust���s recent ���Farming on the Edge��� study identified three critical farming areas in New York State that are currently threatened by non-farm development: the Hudson River Valley, Long Island, and Western New York-The Finger Lakes Region. Yet, despite the threat to our local food supply, our open space, and our rural ways of life here in the Finger Lakes, the reality is that farmers comprise less than one percent of the population in the State of New York. Therefore, it is critical that the citizens of small towns in the Finger Lakes, like the Town of Fayette, recognize that without farmers, there is no farmland. Quaint notions of ���working landscapes��� mean nothing if the landscape isn���t producing food and fiber. That takes farmers. On the other hand, it is equally important that farmers take responsibility for their farm���s future by engaging in thoughtful planning that goes beyond the outdated model of quick-sale major subdivision exit strategies. But how do we go about all of this?

The answer is planning. We must fearlessly pursue a solid plan, one that takes into account the concerns of the agricultural community, which in the end are all of our concerns. Farmers know that ���failing to plan is planning to fail.��� The farm community must not see town planning efforts and exercises as threats to their individual liberties, but as opportunities to protect the freedoms to farm for the next generation. There are examples in neighboring counties to follow, and tools for doing this.

In 1971, the State of New York enacted its Agriculture Districts law, which encourages farmers to join together and commit their lands to agricultural use in return for property tax relief and protection from outside intrusions. Nearly twenty years later, New York went a step further by passing the Agriculture Protection Act. This piece of legislation strengthened farmers��� right to farm, encouraged scrutiny of public projects that could negatively affect agriculture and initiated the development of county agricultural and farmland protection strategies. Since 1994, New York has been allotting funds for counties to develop plans, and in 1996, the state passed legislation to provide counties that have approved plans, or eligible municipalities, with the funding to purchase development rights to farmland.

Recently, New York State legislation has been proposed to use real estate transfer fees to preserve farm land and open space. Money invested in developing a town would then also generate revenue to help preserve it. To do this, however, the state Legislature must pass a special law giving towns permission to put the proposal before its voters. This legislation, called the Community Preservation Act, would give authority to all towns to choose to put a referendum before the voters. As part of this process, the Community Preservation Act would require a town to develop a Community Preservation Project Plan
that identifies the land to be preserved. This new idea merits consideration by the Town of Fayette and our neighbors in the Finger Lakes.

State level funding can make a huge difference, but farmland protection, the future of farming, must rely on the efforts of individuals in their own communities, in towns and villages. The Towns of Fayette and Varick in Seneca County are currently involved in town level comprehensive planning that, if done in an open, thoughtful, honest way, will no doubt benefit agriculture in the long run, while benefiting the rest of the community at the same time. The agriculture communities in these two respective towns have been invited to a third input meeting on farmland preservation issues and comprehensive planning on March 7th, 2005 at 7:00 PM at the new Fayette Fire Hall. There will surely be more meetings dealing with farming issues, in our towns and in neighboring towns, but will farmers attend? I know everyone that loves their rural town hopes so, because it is today���s farmers that will tell us whether or not farms will be part of our future. So as we approach National Agriculture Day, let us remember to give thanks, and let us be sure that we don���t lose what we love. Let us be sure that farms are a part of our future. Plan to enjoy farmland in the future. Get involved.

12 February 2005

Manual labor- Conscientious vs. Conscious

The manual does not describe, in its entirety, the way things work, in their entirety. -- TidRock

Conscience is first occupied in ascertaining our duty, before we proceed to action; then in judging of our actions when performed. -- J M Mason

The sweetest cordial we receive, at last,
is concience of our virtuous actions past. -- Denham

11 February 2005

Darkest Before Dawn Part I

There is little as dark as denial. To be denied is often to experience a darkness deeper than that before dawn. And if it is one's particularly sad misfortune to experience deep denial and deeper disappointment in those deepest dark moments before dawn; then, the darkness of denial is dark, dark indeed.

Such was my misfortune on fine starry October morning, an hour and a half before dawn. I was cheerfully relishing the final farm chores of the morning of my departure, putting the finishing touches on a masterful packing effort which included a canoe, a kennel and all accoutrements, duck decoys, assorted guns and ammunition, reading material and diary, and appropriate kit and clothing to live sportingly well in the north woods of Maine for a week of glorious game bird hunting. Grouse, woodcock, a variety of waterfowl, and various and sundry other small game awaited me in the great north woods, as well as a motley group of mildly academic, endearingly gourmand and erudite epicureans, most of whom are, like myself, "Johnny-come-lately-s" to hunting, which is to say, daddy didn't teach us when we were five years old; rather we became converts later in life, which explains the zealotry in all cases and on all counts. More on that subject shortly.

It should be said that there is nothing particularly wrong with hunting my home ground. I am blessed with the opportunity to temporarily occupy, hopefully for the next fifty years or so, an upstate New York farm in the Finger Lakes region that is a veritable cornucopia of wild game-- the waterfowl are plentiful, and the deer and turkey are seen daily crossing the old fields, inspecting dilapidated fence rows and pastures. Grouse and woodcock coverts are near as well. I love this ground more every day. But it isn't Maine. It isn't lumberjack land and you won't often have a bear or a moose flush you, just when you thought the feathered quarry you were after might take flight. No, Maine is different. The great north woods with their grand pines and elegant birches, the root beer stained creeks and lakes, the haunting call of the loon, and the knowledge that you are in wild country, wilderness, a bigger place, bigger than one's self, one's experience, one's control, is captivating. Plus, there are more acres and more grouse to hunt.

I planned to drive all day and hit Bangor in the late afternoon, refuel and make final supply acquisitions, and then head for the woods. If I made the gate after dark, I would camp just inside the gate and rendezvous with the rest of the group in the morning. If I made the gate before dark, I would pick a reasonable destination further in and camp there for the night. In either case, the point was to get rested and not get lost when I hit the good country. I checked my routes on my New York and Maine DeLorme Atlas and Gazateer maps, went through my final checks on my truck, loaded the dog and started down the gravel driveway to embark on my journey north. It was 5:00 AM. I turned on my turn signal and habitually glanced at the dash to ensure that the blinker was working, and then glanced at the clock. Most times, when I look at the blue LED digits on the dash clock, I am late or almost late for something. Or at a minimum, there is some kind of work, family, farm, or other pressure. On this morning, I looked at the clock and breathed that sigh of abandon, of letting go, of Vacation.

But then I remembered that it wasn't really vacation, but rather vaguely described "away-ness" due to the fact that I had just started a new job. My boss was in France, and I was newly at the helm of the boss's favorite ship, a big high profile project. A twinge of guilt hit me as I pulled out of the driveway. Was I neglecting my duties by taking off for a hunting trip in my first week on the job? I accelerated, passively noticing the lake in front of my eastern pasture. Some deer stood in the ditch, their eyes glowing at me like distant stadium lights. I slowed down, they froze for a moment, nervously flicked tails and ears, and then bolted. I pulled into the drive to the pasture, to the little side road to the marsh, to my duck blind. It was 5:04 AM. The deer were cruising the hedgerow, now, in full flight and heading for the road. Just a matter of luck whether or not one gets smacked crossing there, I thought to myself. They don't know any better, can't really reason about consequences, live in the constant Now, which is good until you get smacked. 5:06 AM. But, we humans, I thought, we can anticipate consequences, like what happens to one's ability to pay a mortgage payment after one loses a job due to a predilection for hunting in Maine during the first week on said job.

At 5:10 AM I was starring at my computer screen in disbelief. The truck was still idling outside, Bob Dylan in the CD player for the drive, dog settling in for a long nap. The boss, hours ahead of me in France, had a list as long as my arm of things that were critical, must get done in the next four days, and required constant communication. Could I rearrange my schedule and handle these items? Just like that. Darkness. Deep, dark, dreaded denial and disappointment. A hole in the universe had yawned open and I, the flannel clad Voyageur heading to the Great White North and Aurora Borealis, was the sole benefactor of the absolute absence of light.

I spent the next few days reacquainting myself with my old friend depression. I alternated between treatments of St. John's Wort and Scotch whiskey. I tried in vain to contact the awaiting hunting party in Maine, to alert them of my misfortune, and to allay their fears that I may have met my end in a moose brothel. But to no avail. I was alone in my sorrow, and the full eclipse of a hunting trip denied was upon me. Darkness.

This was familiar ground, this trip of a lifetime being taken away. When I was a young boy, my father and I planned a week long fishing trip to Wisconsin. I looked at all of the magazines and drooled over the fish being hauled out of these pristine northern waters. In those days, cold water fish were cool. Big walleye and Northern Pike were worth driving for. Now its all Bass and warm water and worms, plastic or otherwise. I'll take a Daredevil and a toothy critter any day. Unfortunately, one afternoon only days before the big trip, I was the daredevil, taking the dare to play some boyish prank on my very girlish sister. It was a huge success in prankish boy terms, which meant my sister went immediately crying to a parental type. I of course admitted nothing, denied everything, and demanded proof, which was served up to me by a none-to-impressed neighbor. Busted. Mom was incensed, and since the prank involved worms, and so did fishing as far as she was concerned, the logical leap to cancellation of The Trip was an easy one. Darkness. I learned well the meaning of consequences, and later, grace and mercy, as my father found a way to plead my case and reduce my sentence to being grounded for 20 weeks so that I could go fishing with him. And we did catch those big up north fish.

But there was to be no silver lining, no merciful stay of sentence, in my dark cloud of denied wilderness this time. I was done for. Maine was out. I tried to salve my wounds with a duck hunt, but it was too warm, and all the ducks went to the guys with the gadgets and gizmos. I tried a grouse hunt in a newly discovered covert but saw few birds and missed all of them. Sunday came, and the first few emails and phone calls began to trickle in- was I ok? Alive? Lost in Maine? What had happened? I pounded out my mea culpa on the keyboard, sealed it with a kiss, and expected to be razzed to no end.

End part one

10 February 2005

Weathermen...9/11 Commission musings (dated)

We are all watching. We are passive observers of a political tornado that is sucking up everything dear to us and depositing it again in different places, twisted, looking almost unfamiliar. But we are not participating, not acting now. We are watching the weather, but most of us are not out in it. We are relying on the WeatherMen...but has that ever been a good idea?

In the convergence, or collision, of two "weather systems," the 9/11 Commission proceedings and continuing difficulties in Iraq, things are really getting intense. The accusations, the implications, currently being leveled at the Bush administration are framed in such a way as to be transparently political, and to suggest mistruth. The administration is caught between calls to (1)admit mistruths, which then would defeat any efforts the Bush administration makes to distinguish itself from previous administrations, and/or (2) admit mistakes, admissions that would help make the case for follow on arguments implying incompetence, which must lead to firings, a politically disruptive ploy. Severe storm warnings in effect.

The secret for the Bush administration to weather the storm may be to resist self-defensive arrogance and to admit humanity. I wouldn't advocate admitting failure. That���s too strong. I would advocate admitting to misjudging certain things, and would admit to being a victim of circumstances, including unacceptable delays in getting key personnel into position after the election fiasco. I would admit missteps along the way. I would also make sure to point out that this business of fighting terrorism is not black and white, not "go or no-go," not pass or fail, at least not in the sense of the business of a nation. Its much more like climbing a mountain. A misstep, even a fall, is not necessarily failing to climb the mountain. It is a misstep, a setback of varying degrees and implications, depending upon its severity. Certainly, anybody that sets out to climb knows that some missteps can be grave, even fatal. They also know that perfection is a myth when climbing mountains, and that there will be unforeseen challenges to overcome. But if the unrealistic pressure of the possibility of a misstep causing the entire effort of climbing a mountain to be judged as "failure" is allowed to fester, then it is unlikely that one would dare to climb the mountain at all.

The United States of America can not afford to be afraid to weather storms or to climb mountains...if we succumb to fear of missteps in our efforts to reach the summit, to accomplish our goals of liberty and justice for all, then the terrorists have indeed scored a victory. I would say that failure is the same as defeat, and no American has been defeated, in the past, now, or in the future, by whatever threat or enemy, if they were engaged in a fight for truth, justice, and liberty. Yes, to the families of the victims of 9/11, the fact is, we could have and should have done a better job of preventing the terrible tragedy, the most costly misstep in recent memory. But we should be careful not to sully the memory of the many men and women who died on that day and since, by saying that their deaths were part of a "failure." We should resist efforts to politicize tragedy and responses to it. We should be wary of bringing dishonor upon the many leaders at every level of government and law enforcement in this country, from any political party, who are putting immense effort into correcting the causes of this costly misstep and focusing with renewed vigor on the summit. And I would say to the commission, do not dishonor yourselves, as Americans, by allowing the enemy to sow the seeds of discord, deceit, and division amongst us. The blame for 9/11 lies squarely, squarely, on the evil men who brought terror to our families. The burden for the aftermath lies upon every American. We should not be asking who is to blame now, we should be asking how we can emerge from this stronger and wiser than before, and what we as citizens can do for our country. Sound familiar?