I am a registered voter in Meredith, NY where my family farms. Our farm is the largest working farm in the town, and we now farm the most land. This fact saddens me. My father now hays hundreds and hundreds of acres of neighbor’s land because they have stopped dairy farming. I guess this could be viewed as a plus for our farm we could grow exponentially because we have access to so much fallow pasture, but it really isn’t, yes, we have more land to lease but the fact we are the last working farm on our county highway makes us vulnerable. As farmers who raise animals for meat we rely on agricultural infrastructure and we need to be supported by the community. Support comes in many forms: political, economic and cultural. It is hard for non-farmers to understand the complex economic realities that farmers face and how vulnerable we are. Our neighbors see beautiful animals on beautiful pastures and think this is the way it will always be because it looks so darn good. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
A recent article in the New York Times about how acrimonious the gas drilling issue as become upstate, depressed me. The article painted an unfaltering picture of ideological fault lines and fragile communities; farmers who have sold out gas rights (farmers are usually the largest landowners in rural towns) are being threatened by citizens who feel their future is being sold out. I have complex feeling toward this all. My knee jerk reaction is to sympathize with the farmers, where were these citizens when the wages of farmers reached pathetic lows? Yet, I am steadfastly against gas drilling, and have written about the issue after being prompted by Ken Jaffe, a close family friend. For community members the challenge should be two fold: focus energies on laws protecting our land and water but also to ACTIVELY support local agriculture with their dollars; helping to build a vibrant local economy where farming is sustainable, economically. The gas companies have been able to capitalize on the fact that most farms in Upstate New York are struggling.
The town of Meredith has asked citizens to submit their thoughts on the issue of gas drilling and home rule, and I admit it is a complex issue for me. Should local municipalities be given the right to pass laws that govern their towns when they conflict with state and federal laws? My thoughts instantly wander to the civil rights movement and how instrumental the federal government was in helping desegregate schools and yet now, state laws are responsible for giving gay Americans their civil right to marry. It seems that a Mississippi referendum stating that a fetus is a human being failed, but if it hadn’t, should a state be able to have laws that conflict with federal law? Complex stuff, no?
When I envision gas-drilling towers in my town of Meredith, I feel a deep sense of dread. The fact that the industry has been able to lobby it’s way into immunity from the simplest of environmental protections, should have all us of worried. I am. When industry dollars can buy deregulation we all lose. I voted via absentee ballet and I feel honored to personally know everyone I voted for. Maybe, home rule is a necessary response to a federal government that has failed to protect our communities. I certainly don’t have the all answers but I feel privileged to be able to express them and work with my local officials on my town’s future: a future where farming is part of the answer.