My Small, Local Stimulus Package

(wow. – promoted by pfiore8)

I live in rural Columbia County, New York.  Columbia County is about 25 miles SE of Albany, New York, in the Hudson Valley.  It abuts Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  And it’s really beautiful.  It’s also experiencing the same recession as the rest of the country.

The current recession has already thrown the real estate market into a deep freeze, so that home sales are very, very slow.  Fortunately, there have not been a huge number of subprime mortgage foreclosures, though there have been a few.  Gasoline is down to $3.21/gallon today.  Heating oil is $3.389/gallon.  There was an announcement last week that the state was going to close the Hudson Correctional Facility, the second largest employer in the county, within a year.  The Correctional Facility employs 277 workers.  Local politicians of all stripes are fighting the proposal; I’m not optimistic that those jobs will be spared.  Most likely, the jobs will be moved away.

Two decades ago Columbia County used to be filled with dairy farms.  Those farms disappeared during Reagan’s dairy farm liquidations.  There are few dairy farms left.  This has resulted in huge herds of deer, which browse land that was formerly pasture, and a large growth of second homes for people from New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and Boston (all about 2 hours away).  Two decades ago Columbia County had factories.  Now there are very few.  Mostly, the county is filled with rural, second homes, people who provide services, or telecommute, or commute to Albany, or to Hudson.  There is no Starbucks in Columbia County.  There is a Wal-mart.  There is no Home Depot or Lowes.  There is no large mall though one is planned.  There is a lovely, new food coop in Chatham.  There are many restaurants. There is theater, and an excellent film festival, and art and sculpture.  There are amazing, organic farms.  But I digress.

An important strategy for rural counties like Columbia County is to put land back into production for food.  Not for animal corn.  Not for soybeans.  For food.  Why?  Because local, organically produced food is healthier.  And it tastes better.  And it does not need long distance transport, so its price does not depend on oil prices or the cost of transporting it or the cost of chemical fertilizers.  But, alas, I’m not really a farmer.  I raised sheep for about a decade, but ultimately gave that up: it was impossible for me not to lose serious money.  I would have needed a flock of thousands, and to do that I would have had to give up my usual work. Instead, I quit raising them.

I have some lovely fertile land, land that will grow beautiful vegetables and flowers, land that for at least two decades has never had chemical fertilizers on it or pesticides.  And I wanted to get it back into production.  Know what? I don’t care if I make any money from it at all.  If I can get an agricultural tax exemption on my land taxes, that will be great, but that’s not really the point.  If I get the inside price of vegetables that will be enough. The point is to find ways to get local land into production of food that will be sold and consumed locally.  That makes ecological and economic sense.

So I scouted around the local natural food store, the local food coop, the local organic, biodynamic farm, and I found an organic farmer who wanted to grow vegetables and flowers and was doing so successfully on other land nearby.  A farmer who wanted more land.  An organic, skilled farmer.  And I made him a deal he couldn’t refuse: I’d lease him between 5 and 10 acres for $1.00 a year for 5 years or longer if he’d put it into production, if he’d promise not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and he could keep whatever money he made from the crop he grew.  If he made enough that I could get an Ag exemption, great.  If not, that’s fine also.  What I really want is for the land to be productive and to feed people.  And I want the land to become more fertile, and better farming land as we go along.

My hope is that by doing this I can inspire other people who own land or who have abutting lots with enough vacant land (5 acres seems to be the minimum) to find farmers to put their land back into production of food.  I want them to give the same deal I’m giving.

Is this a stimulus?  Absolutely.  It’s a modest one to be sure.  But it’s a real stimulus.  Unlike the one they’re talking about in Congress, it’s a real one.  It’s new production.  It’s turning fallow land into food.  And does the money stay in the local community?  Definitely.  And does it decrease food prices for organic local vegetables?  Sure.  And does it provide a farmer with additional income that he will spend in the local community?  Yes.  In other words, it’s a real stimulus.  And my hope is that it’s an example: we can find ways of making our lives better by being creative.  And we can begin to change the way the economy runs for the better when we do that.  

25 comments

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  1. Thanks for reading.  

  2. … idea.  I shall expect you to provide us with wonderful salads this summer.

    (Putting in my order early, and all)

  3. What a wonderfully sensible, ecologically sound, economical, motivational incentive for a community!

    Kudos to you and I REALLY hope others with some land follow this example.  

    Maybe, you could have this article published in some eco-magazine, or Whole Earth Foods publication, or such!  

    • kj on January 30, 2008 at 23:55

    don’t know if this fits in, but a writer friend of mine worked up a project for the local ag department, coop extension, linking organic farmers with local restaurants. after awhile, the connections were made and voila, she was no longer needed.  which was fine with her.  😉

    • RiaD on January 31, 2008 at 00:08

    Bravo! Good Job!

    ::stands applauding::

  4. Much better — and smarter — than the tax rebate plan. Bravo!!

     

  5. we all pray and hope for. Taking back our land both physically and in spirit, the responsibility we all share. The only answer to the corporate forces that have no base in the real world.Each time we all no matter how or what reclaim our land we defeat the forces who seek to enslave us all and keep us captive to their vision of globalization. I’m impressed and inspired.

    I am an urban dweller and can promote local businesses and do buy local, especially food. I can also as a small, I mean small business owner, plow the same fields you are. I can create jobs, pay well keep outsourcing in my community, working money stays in your communities pocket. This is the only realistic solution, we have prepare and foster our communities. An exciting diary. thank you!      

  6. I have a sister and brother who live in your county… Whenever I’ve visited up there (which is quite frequently), I’ve met some very interesting people… many who seem like you – trying to create a conscious, sustainable place to live and raise families.

    I like your locally focused stimulus idea… keep up the good work. Let us know how it works for you and the local economy.

  7. Hawthorne Valley Farm is truly a magical place. And yay for you for using your land wisely and well.

    I was for a long time part of a CSA farm in Berkshire Country, from the early days of CSAs in this country, and it’s been so heartening to see the movement growing, even against the financial odds of land so expensive that young farmers can’t afford it.

    You’ve just helped even the odds a bit.

    And finally, finally! people seem to be starting to understand the concept of locally grown food. Things like this give me a bit of hope in the midst of all the truly depressing political news about people like Rove and Mukasey and political so-called debates.

    • feline on January 31, 2008 at 04:01

    These type of local activities can have impactful cumulative effects.

    • KrisC on January 31, 2008 at 04:04

    Awesome idea and a great diary.  I needed this tonight, a little spark of hope-a ray of light, so I thank you!

    I live on Cape Cod, in a small community….there are some wonderful local farmers here, too, whom grow organically.  Local produce is so much better to buy and in my area, usually less-expensive.  We go through box loads of produce each week around this house, so ‘less-expensive’ and ‘healthier’ is a huge plus for us.

    May the force be with you davidseth!

  8. What an inspiration for us all to find a means to keeping it local…

    Here are some links to people who are doing great things that may useful…to your endeavor, and for others who are growing( or trying to grow) their own food.

    http://www.bountifulgardens.org/

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/

    http://www.johnjeavons.info/

    • skymutt on January 31, 2008 at 06:29

    Well done.  May fortune repay you for your generosity to your fellow man!  

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