Today I ate a homegrown cherry tomato, and I liked it. It was perfectly ripe, bursting with flavor, and it did not travel 1000 miles or more to get to my mouth. In fact, I picked it from my sun room, just a few steps from where I write this.
I ate it because it was good, and I could.
To eat it supports a system in which I believe, one that is right in so many ways. It is a local transaction, of that there is no doubt. More than that, it is a conscious and personal act. I tended and nurtured that small plant, and I studied it’s growing fruit with hope and anticipation.
To eat a tomato from the supermarket more than likely supports a system that I do not believe in. That tomato depends on chemicals, the corporate model, and long distance transport, steeped in diesel. It rarely tastes like a tomato either.
Thus, I so protest. I pop it into my mouth and I eat my cherry tomato which was just a second ago still attached to the vine. It is an inconsequential act, I suppose, but it still holds power. It makes me feel better. It may not change the world in any significant way this day, but it did change my world, and for the moment, that is enough.
Today our new-found friend, Justin the beekeeper, finished installing some bee hives and electric fencing on a small corner of our lower pasture. It was an exciting time for us, and the bees. Our dogs were enthusiastic also, as they tried to figure out what all the hubbub was about. I know that they will be even more stimulated when they lay their inquisitive noses on the woven wire for that first, and hopefully last time, and receive that startling jolt from that fully charged car battery attached to the fence.
Hopefully, they will forgive us for that. If we could, we would tell them that the electric shock is really not for them. The fence is there to fend off the sweet desires of a wandering black bear. As we all know, they love bees and honey too, and tend to be a bit rough on hives.
Justin is a fairly new beekeeper, but he already knows a great deal about his craft. We know nothing about bees or beekeeping, so we learned a few things recently from him and some preliminary research. I think that I knew this and forgot, but honey bees are not native to North America at all. They were imported from Europe in the early 17th century and quickly disseminated throughout the country.
Justin installed eight hives, which for now hold about 5,000 bees per hive. I don’t know about you, but 40,000 bees is a lot of bees in our book. He tells me that the hives will contain about 10,000 bees per hive when they finish doing that “birds and the bees” thing. Go bees!
Apparently, there are many kinds of honey bees. Our bees are about one half Carniolan, or “carnies”, and the other half Italian honey bees. Both types are considered to be excellent honey producers, and resistant to disease. Both are also considered to be non agressive and gentle in their behavior towards the beekeeper. This seems like it might be a great characteristic, particularly if I were the keeper!
Justin tells us that at top production he might be able to harvest about 40 pounds of honey per hive, or about 320 pounds in a good season. That’s impressive. We traded him a little bit of future honey in return for keeping his bees on our land, which I believe will be a great arrangement for all concerned.
It’s a small corner of our property, after all, and we will not miss it. Our small apple orchard sits just above the hives, so the bees will no doubt help with improved pollination, and increased fruit yields and quality. Honey bees are the most important pollinator of apples, and vital to the health and vitality of an orchard.
So, there you have it. Hopefully, the bees will remain active, healthy and happy. We will have the tasty pleasure of homegrown and backyard honey, which will help us to do the same. And, we feel just a little more grounded to the earth, and more open to receive the willing bounty of the land. We welcome the small ones to our growing farm community, and we are grateful for a new friend. A bit of cooperative collaboration, like bees in a bee colony, can go a long way. A little honest barter, can’t hurt anyone either.
Perhaps you have a beekeeper near you who might be interested in a similar arrangement, and you can make a new friend or two along the way too.
It must be fair to say that human beings strive to be liked by other humans. Most of us not only want this, but need it. We crave acceptance and approval like a potted plant thirsts for water and nourishment. For some, it is most uncomfortable and worrisome to know that another person not only dislikes them, but despises them. Hatred aimed and focused in your direction can be a devastating and brutish weapon, and it can knot and shrivel your innards if you let it. A man who tells you different is either completely oblivious or tragically dishonest to himself. I know, for I’ve experienced such mind numbing hatred from another person for the last several months. It does not lessen the confusion and pain to know that it is all because of pet dogs and dead chickens.
My wife and I raise rabbits, squab, and chickens for our family table on our small acreage in the rocky mountains. It is a mostly simple and worthy task. We enjoy the daily chores and the opportunity to be more closely involved with our food. It gives us purpose and slows the spin within the ever tightening death spiral of the ruler’s world, hoping that our example will encourage others to change their ways or stay the truer course. Our part is small and the hour late, but we can only hope that a small awareness in ourselves leads to better days for all. Hands on food and an honest meal can do no harm. Some people, however, seem to have a genuine knack and desire for havoc and chaos. It is the promise of the end of something fine and inherently pure that drives them.
We have tried to be respectful and considerate neighbors. It’s not that hard to do. Large tracts of open space surround us on three sides. To our north lies the Flat Tops Wilderness, and mostly other wild lands up to the Canadian border. We favored our closest neighbor and built our bird pens and coops about as far away as possible to reduce the chance of conflict or complaint. We tried to inform them of our plans, and offered to resolve any problems in advance. We built and repaired hundreds of feet of border fence without thanks or any offer of assistance. Instead, we offered ourselves to them if needed, and eggs from our happy hens, and other backyard bounty. We owned up to the joys of “manure management” and odor control, and in fact adored the results it produced when applied to our gardens. It mattered not at all, for their dogs came anyway and killed them well, without consideration or remorse.
The same dogs have come several times over many months, as we were never quite able to completely finish the fence or predict the direction of their campaigns. It didn’t matter that in Colorado it is the dog owner’s responsibility to control the wanderings of their dogs. It didn’t matter that our property possesses the proper zoning, and that we had broken no laws. It didn’t matter that we have always limited the amount of time that our birds have free ranged on open pasture, and under a close eye at that. It never mattered that Colorado is a “Right To Farm” State, or that our property was once a poultry farm long before we, or our neighbors, thought to live here. What matters is that our chickens are still very dead, and that our neighbors apparently hate us beyond all measure of rationality and reciprocity, because we had the audacity to ask to be compensated for their loss. Until then, I never imagined that chickens and farm animals could generate so much disdain and consuming hatred within a human soul.
Of course, the officers of animal control responded to our calls, the police consulted and reported, and the court evaluated, and judged. We have been monetarily compensated to some extent. But still, somehow the compensation never comes close to filling the emptiness left behind. Money does not heal all of the damaging wounds of the violation. It does not compensate for the destruction of one’s peace of mind, nor aid in the eternal quest of a lost ideal. We don’t ask for much. But we would occasionally like to hold the world of deceivers and brain addled man-children at bay for a few precious moments in time, and latch on to something real long enough to remember what that is.
It’s a life’s work to look evil in the eye and make it blink, without first succumbing to the overwhelming need to fall apart and scurry for cover. In my case, it certainly does not help when your chicken hating neighbor is every bit of 6′ 6″, and them some, and looks like he could still hold his own on the college basketball court. He has no doubt held off countless opponents from an uncontested spot beneath the basket. I would not like to be on the receiving end of a slashing and blindsided elbow. To say the least, my neighbor is a rather intimidating fellow, and his body language and practiced glare would make a snarling badger turn inside out and pass himself in panicked flight. Like all petty enforcers and sadistic bone breakers, he is used to getting what he wants, or destroying and discarding of what he does not. He has made it clear that he does not wish us to have the pleasure of our poultry. They will be gone, of that he is sure. In his mind, there must be an angle from which to triangulate, and an actionable course to pursue by whatever means possible.
Still, I must stand my ground in the face of the onslaught. Farms and farming are suffering under a withering and unconscionable attack in this country, every day, from every direction imaginable. Big business and big government collude and conspire against us, with malice afore thought. Little government works overtime to impress their corrupt handlers, with some special attention for anyone who points out their dirty workings. Urban and suburban values collide with escalating force as the job market and the economy implodes, leaving the common person to pick up the crumbs from their festering carcasses. You would like to raise and sell some poultry from your own property, you say? Well, we don’t think so! And by the way, it is now illegal for your own children to labor on the family farm. Can you hear the screams of the founding fathers as they claw to escape from their earthly graves?
We let it get this bad because we never saw it coming. A good person cannot think through the mind of a plotting and scheming beast. For example, we simply cannot originate the concepts of flouridated and toxic waters being promulgated to wash down chemically saturated non food, while at the same time making it illegal to have a home garden as they dream up new ways to criminalize the art of self-sufficiency.
As with others locked in this terrible struggle, I will stand and fight because I must. Like all proper dinosaurs I will see my end soon enough, and can only hope that it is a good end. Or perhaps not, and instead grow wings like the modern bird that they became, and fly through the bombardment unscathed. I will fight for my right and your right to become just a little more self-reliant and defiantly independent, and help you hold up a big, bold, fistful of empowered personal dignity towards the light.
After all, like many of you I have already pledged to spit in the eye of the county health department, the USDA, The FDA, and any other alphabet soup agency or freedom hating tyrant who may dare to fight fair. They hate us too, and their rabbit punches and dirty boxing skills are legendary. The enemies of the borderlands are vast and most cleverly devious. They lurk at the edges of our lovingly protected world, while hungrily plotting the death of our way of life. Compared to them just how bad can one really giant fire-breathing neighbor be?
Our intimidators and bullies simply cannot prevail, and we refuse to own their hatred. Our will, and the will of the land will not allow it, and our travails and hardships will be replaced with joy and forgiveness. Here’s to hoping, and praying, that our injuries can only hurt for a little bit, and that things will look much better when it’s over. Together, we shall grow stronger at the broken places. We have the power of the chicken and the spirit of her barnyard friends, and the righteousness of the good fight, on our side.
Sustainable Settings, near Carbondale, Colorado, is a non profit organization that promotes whole systems strategies in sustainable agriculture, green development, land stewardship, and much more.
They have been getting a lot of attention lately for their raw dairy co-operative and herd share venture. About forty shares have been sold to eager consumers and raw milk advocates, and the small guernsey herd cannot produce enough to satisfy the public demand. The story is the same wherever and whenever a herd share program can be found.
Sales of raw milk are governed by the individual states. Each state has different laws, and in some cases it is banned altogether. The FDA has jurisdiction over interstate sales, and has banned all sales of unpasteurized milk across state lines. In Colorado, herd shares are deemed legal by state statute or regulation. If you live in Colorado, joining a herd share cooperative is the only way to legally purchase raw milk.
Raw milk proponents are becoming more vocal and better organized. Several groups, like the Farm to Consumers Legal Defense Fund, are fighting in the courts on behalf of their farmer members in an effort to change the law. According to Steve Bemis, Esq., “Some state regulators and especially federal authorities continue a relentless campaign against raw milk and free choice in food”.
The federal government has now claimed that fresh milk is 150 times more likely to make you sick than pasteurized dairy. How absurd? What a complete and utter load of crap! How long do you think it would take me to find 150 heartfelt testimonials as to the health benefits and curative properties of a raw milk regimen. Not long, I can assure you.
I will agree that there is a great sickness here. However, it is not to be found in the people who believe in their right to eat what they want, when they want it. It is the FDA’s thought process, mindset, and culture of arrogance that is deathly sick. Their unflinching pursuit of government regulated control of what you and I ingest must simply be checked. The laws must be changed.
For now, you cannot argue with the sick minds’ at the FDA and other similar government regulatory agencies. They simply cannot hear you because they don’t think they need to listen to the poor unknowing public. I’d say it is about time they enjoyed a regular dose of raw milk at their family dinner tables. It might help them clear their muddled minds and see the light that burns more brightly every day.
I hope that I can one day own a herd share at Sustainable Settings, or a place just like it. I defend your right to do so too, should that be your wish. I believe the founding fathers of this country had something to say about that very thing when they penned that glorious document called The Constitution.
Farmers in Southern New Jersey Can Find Their Farming Options To Be Severely Limited Because of Wetlands Designation Under The Pinelands Protection Act.
My younger brother owns a thirty acre blueberry farm in southern New Jersey, and recently, we have discussed the possibilities of combining forces. He, with his blueberries, and my wife and I with our expertise in poultry, egg, and squab production, together with the addition of any other farm crops that would surely find a ready market in the local area. It is the “garden state”, after all, and if you have never had the pleasure of the legendary “Jersey Tomato”, then you have missed one of the world’s great culinary treats. It sounded like a grand idea, at least on the hypothetical and hopeful face of it.
However, just under the surface of it all lurked the state of New Jersey’s well deserved reputation for over regulation, government over reach, bureaucratic red tape, and corruption. Pack a large population in a small area of solid ground, squarely on top of that troubling paradigm and you may have an idea why I moved to Colorado more than 35 years ago. Still, the idea of new adventures color our days, and it would be nice to be surrounded by family once again. A small farm in the relative quiet of the Pine Barrens of rural South Jersey, not far from the tidal bays and the salt water fisheries of the Atlantic Ocean, could be a fine place to be. Or so we thought.
Knowing what I do about zoning and regulation, and the ongoing and escalating war waged upon the small farmer, I began to research the land use and planning issues related to such a venture. It has been a farm for many decades, after all, so what kind of potential issues or problems could there be? Well, quite a few, as it turns out, and the entire, sorry mess is so complicated that my head spins as I write this. I will do my best to explain to you as I race to comprehend it myself.
It is no surprise to discover that a great deal has changed since I moved away in 1976. The area in which we grew up is known as the Pine Barrens, and it was our backyard, and our playground. We hunted for bobwhite quail and whitetailed deer in the hardwoods behind our house, or fished for slashing grass pickerel or plump yellow bullheads in the tea colored lakes. Mostly, we wandered and roamed as we chose, or road our dirt bikes on the endless sand roads.
We were to young and preoccupied to be aware of the tremendous development interests and numerous conflicting desires overwhelmingly focused on the Pine Barrens.The area had always been recognized for it’s unique cultural and natural resources. So unique, in fact, that in a partnership agreement Congress and the State of New Jersey created the Pinelands National Reserve under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, and the 1979 New Jersey Pinelands Protection Act. It became the first National Reserve in the nation, encompassing 1.1 million acres and making up the largest tract of open space on the mid-atlantic coast. It makes up over 20% of New Jersey’s land area, and is underlain by some of the highest quality and voluminous aquifers on planet earth. The importance of these aquifers cannot be overstated. It is the presence of these waters that define the Pinelands.
The Pinelands Protection Act established the Pinelands Commission, which functions as the planning authority for the reserve. Preservation, protection, and development guidelines are contained in The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. The plan is administered by the Commission in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies.
So what does this all mean for a small farmer in the Pinelands of southern New Jersey? Well, it means everything, as you might guess. Under the Act, county and municipal master plans and zoning ordinances must comply with the Management Plan. The Plan is a regulatory instrument, which provides for the exercise of police powers to enforce the allowable uses of land and waters.
While one of the main objectives of the plan is to promote the continuation and expansion of agricultural uses, it aIso protects the quality of surface and ground water. Other objectives aim to preserve and maintain the essential character of the environment, including indigenous animal and plant species and their habitats. It does all of this while discouraging scattered and “incompatible” development, and provides incentives in an effort to steer development towards less ecologically sensitive areas of the The Reserve.
I did not know any of this when I began to investigate the idea of farming with my brother. The farm sits at the outer edge, but within, the Pinelands National Reserve. He purchased it in the early 1990’s, with the knowledge that the previous owner had sold away the building development rights for the property. I discovered that under the Management Plan those rights had become Pinelands Development Credits, and were “severed” when they were sold to the Pinelands Development Credit Bank. But it was an existing blueberry farm, albeit “deed restricted”, and for him that was all that mattered.
As I continued to research, I was led to believe that there were no issues or potential problems with the idea of raising and marketing poultry from this land, or any problems with expanding into other agricultural uses. I had already looked into what I knew to be applicable federal and state laws regarding on-farm poultry processing, so I next spoke with the appropriate people at the County and Township levels. New Jersey is a “Home Rule” state, which means a great deal of the business there is handled by the municipalities.
I found out that my brother’s farm meets the standards for, and is considered a “qualified farm” under The New Jersey Farmland Assessment Act. In simple terms, this means that he has the required amount of land under agricultural production, and therefore enjoys the benefit of reduced property taxes. I also discovered that the property had the proper zoning for agricultural use. Neither the county, or the local township, could point out any reason why we could not put our business plan into action. It was then that I received a call back from the offices of the Pineland Commission. The wheels of progress grounded to a halt and ended our simple entrepreneurial dreams, bashed to pulp once again under the heel of a bureaucrat’s boot.
It was explained to me that the property does fall within the Agricultural Production Area, one of the nine land use management zones established by the Management Plan Land Capability Map of The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. These are areas of active agricultural use, generally used for upland field agriculture and row crops. The”uplands”, so named for obvious reasons, are the opposite of “wetlands”.
Depending on which report you read, about 25% of the Pinelands Reserve are made up of various wetland types. About 50% of the Reserve consists of private inholdings. As luck, or in his case, bad luck, would have it, my brother’s farm includes very little uplands and is comprised almost entirely of a major wetland type. The Comprehensive Management Plan establishes special rules regarding wetlands within the Reserve. All development is prohibited, including any development within 300″ of a wetland. The planning and zoning specialists at the county and township offices could have explained this to me at the time and saved me a great deal of time and effort. Apparently, they were not aware of the existence of wetlands either, even though they were looking at the recorded deeds, land surveys, and advanced GIS maps.
As far as I can tell, the farm is considered an inland wetland bog, precisely because the vegetation is dominated by “blueberries”. No there’s a surprise! Wetlands include lands with poorly drained or very poorly drained soils. These areas have very high water tables (at least seasonally), where the water table is often less than 18″ from the surface.
The Management Plan goes further. It contains special provisions with regard to agricultural and horticultural uses in wetlands. It permits horticulture activities related to native Pineland species, and blueberry and cranberry agriculture. It also allows beekeeping. And that’s it! No other agricultural uses are permitted.
Our farming plans and business hopes hinge almost entirely on a few sentences in an diabolically complicated 269 page document, created by an army of lawyers, land planners, and politicians. The document attempts to cover every last detail of the management of a one million acre reserve. But in the end it adds up to one clear result. The Pinelands Commission has final authority in what you may do or not do on your own farm.
Incredulous, I asked for further clarification on allowable uses of this land. I explained that with the exception of a small pond, there was no standing water or boggy areas on the property. By all appearances it was “high ground”.
Could we free range some turkeys or other poultry amongst the blueberries, to clean up bugs or weeds? The answer was a resounding “No”!. Could one build a small chicken coop, perhaps even a temporary structure, in an effort to provide a few farm fresh eggs. Again, the answer was no. Could we turn loose a goat, or a cow, or any other livestock animal? You guessed it, the answer was no. Could we plant any type of vegetable anywhere on the property, or start a small home garden, or tend a tomato plant or two? No!, came the response. There is no debate on these matters. There is also no appeal process. One may apply for a Waiver of Strict Compliance, but any waiver must comply with the issues of wetlands management under the Management Plan. So, in other words, no! Any other questions?
So there you have it. My brother may own one of the few farms in the United States where almost all normal farming practices are disallowed, under penalty of the law. You could say that the responsibility for his lack of understanding falls only on him, and that he should have researched the laws and regulations before purchasing the land. After all, the creation of the Pinelands Reserve is old news to millions of people. But obviously, not to us.
We always assumed that it was a farm, and a farmer could farm like farmers do, and have done for centuries. It’s embarrassing even, to realize that we may be the last men standing in the land of Jersey that never realized how our property rights had been affected. That being said, my brother assures me that no one with the Pinelands Commission, a congressional delegation, or other group ever dropped by to discuss life under the microscope of a national reserve. No one ever asked him how he felt about it, or how it may have changed his opportunities or plans.
Afterall, who in their wildest imaginations could ever believe it would become illegal to grow a garden in the garden state? Who could anticipate that it would be considered an illegal act to harvest a tomato from your own property, in an area known worldwide for the quality of it’s essence? How could it be a crime to free range a chicken, and gather it’s eggs on a glorious spring morning in the beauty of the pines? How can it be?
As a wildlife biologist, I could be one of the first people to sing the praises and the joys of wetland ecosystems. I can easily tout the many worthwhile and incredibly important reasons to protect and preserve them. In fact, I have done just that many, many times. Yet, in this case, I simply disagree.
To dictate what a private property holder can accomplish on his hard-won land, after already announcing to the world that it is indeed a “qualified” farm, completely destroys the concept of good and common sense. It may not be the kind of farm of which you approve, but it is a farm none the less. To deny a reasonable use is a destruction of private property rights. It’s the worst kind of theft, because it patronizes and destroys while purporting to protect. It makes a mockery of one’s civil liberties, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It rips and strips the permissions of a local government, and places the authority in the arms of a totalitarian and god like national power. My brother’s options were already gone when he purchased his farm, and he never even knew it. It can’t be right! What good is owning property after all, if in the end it is not even legal to feed yourself from it?
The mere mention of the word “wetlands” can inflict paralyzing terror upon the soul of any land developer, as perhaps it should in many circumstances. However, a wetlands designation is more often used as a life extinguishing dagger strike, straight to the center of the heart of all private property holders. The law and the regulators allow no distinction between the ruthless profiteer and the considerate land steward, unless they want it to. It does not recognize the concepts of sustainable agriculture or holistic management, or any other low impact and whole farm management methods. In that regard, it is the not so secret and ultimate weapon of all land use planners, and the heavy hammer of all controlling agencies and fascist slave masters of the world. A small, lonely farmer or insignificant land owner rarely survives the encounter.
The Pinelands National Reserve may be the most restrictive and intensively managed regional land use regime in the United States. But it gets worse. Did I mention that in 1983 the Pinelands Reserve was designated a U.S. Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, otherwise known as Unesco? Or that in 1988, it was further designated as an International Biosphere Reserve? What mechanism was applied to grant authority to an international body in the land use decisions of an independent and free nation? Am I the only person that feels uncomfortable with the involvement of the United Nations in the management of the Pinelands Reserve? Something tells me that there is more to this story, and that it does not bode well for the future of people of the Pine Barrens. For example, there has already been an effort to make hunting and fishing illegal in a Biosphere Reserve, unless done so under very specific conditions.
I write this mostly to share with you my utter and complete disbelief, and to warn not to let this happen to you. I am left with only more disturbing questions. Why do we continue to allow ourselves to be directed by scientists and so-called experts, who always seem to know what is best for us as they collect their payments from those who tell them what to say and how to say it? Why do we continue to tolerate the perverse and prying attacks of an all-powerful but openly corrupt government, which seems hell bent in it’s determination to dictate all aspects of our lives including what and how we may eat? How can we continue to be dictated to through laws and regulations created to control our land, by people that we have never met, while standing on the very ground we walked upon and called our home long before the legislation was even conceived? What devious plans lay before us, just out of reach of our understanding? Can you tell me, – does it, can it, will it, ever end? In the final analysis, it is up to you, and me, and us.
Left unchecked, the hidden masters will continue to classify and designate and legislate our private property rights into oblivion. Our personal and regional identity, in fact our national sovereignty, will disappear completely into the morning mist of a cranberry bog or blueberry field. If this concerns or disturbs, you may wish to become acquainted with, and in fact very familiar with, the term “Agenda 21”! This many-headed monster grows larger, and more powerful, every day.