Jo-Ellen Trilling and Andrew Willner, Side by Side

A husband-and-wife dual retrospective Featuring fairy-tale fantasy and woodwork


An exhibit at the Wired Gallery, 11 Mohonk Road, High Falls, NY

August 3 –25, 2019 

Hours: Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
TheWired Gallery​.com

Excerpted in part from Roll Magazine and the Blue Stone Press 

Married for decades, Andrew Willner and Jo-​​Ellen Trilling share a bond of creativity. They’ve traveled on different artistic tracks, but side by side; embarked in New York City and arrived in in Rosendale, in New York’s Hudson Valley.


Trilling’s paintings and dolls exemplify Magic Realism. Appearances lure and trick with bright colors but incongruous details.Whimsical, Bosch-​​like hybrid creatures teeter on the disturbing. Winged things cling to Grimm forest trees; a live rooster hat glares from a dog doll’s head. Disquieting toys, ‘steampunk’ horses .and strange animals peer through Alice’s looking glass.

Nautical notes and textures pervade Willner’s woodwork: Apple wood and spalted Elm boxes, and sculptures he calls wave/sails.  He works utilitarian pieces like bowls and cutting boards into waves and swells, counter-​​currents and swirls, gentle lifts and ebbs on surfaces far from shore. Willner laminates and carves fine wood, sands to fluid flows, oils it to a rich sheen.

Jo-Ellen’s works have been avidly sought by private collectors, especially by prominent individuals in the entertainment world, such as Elton John, Carrie Fisher, Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Robin Williams, and Madonna, just to name a few. Jo-​​Ellen was born in Huntington, Long Island, in 1947 and grew up in Setauket, Long Island. She attended the State University of New York, New Paltz, during which time she focused on dollmaking. Also, at that time, Trilling began creating portrait figures in cloth, producing prototypes for her later works. She moved to New York City in 1972 where she studied pastel drawing at New York’s Art Students League with Dan Green.

Fashioned from cloth, wire, and other materials, her sculptures portray such subjects as lascivious pigs in flamenco costume and leering dogs in gangster suits or leather motorcycle outfits. Trilling’s sculptures have been exhibited at various venues. They may be found in the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, Kansas, and the Ito Doll Museum, Japan. Trilling began painting in 2001, and her first exhibition devoted to her oils in New York City took place in 2008.


The Philadelphia Museum will include 2 Jackets from the 1980’s, in an exhibit entitled Off The Wall, opening this November.  For more about Jo-Ellen, visit her website.

Willner has been a sculptor, furniture designer, boat builder, city planner, environmentalist, permaculturist, transition advocate, storyteller, public speaker, and blogger. Some of his photographs and furniture can be seen HERE..He is writing a book, Fish and Ships, a photo narrative of the people, places, and environment of one of the most beautiful and vulnerable estuaries in the world. Most of his photographs were taken while patrolling the New York/​New Jersey Harbor for 20 years on the Baykeeper skiff.  A portfolio of his photographs can be seen HERE.  

For  more about Andrew, go HERE,  and his work on climate and post carbon logistics HERE.


Fish & Ships: The Hudson-Raritan (New York Harbor) Estuary in Photographs

“It is a place that can make nature-worshipers out of non-believers”

In this photo essay,Fish and Ships I hope to share my knowledge and love of the Estuary’s beautiful waterscape through photographs.  of the working waterfront, wildlife, and wetlands that border the Harbor, The photographs taken from the Baykeeper Boat over an almost twenty year period describe the ecological and human uses of this confluence of the New York and New Jersey’s largest rivers and the Bays of New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hudson-Raritan Estuary marks the watery end of New York and New Jersey’s largest rivers – the Hudson, Hackensack, Passaic, Rahway, Shrewsbury, Navesink, and Raritan Rivers. The Harbor Estuary is one of the most studied and well documented in the World but few know it well.  I had the honor and privilege of serving as the Baykeeper for the Bays and tributaries to the Hudson-Raritan (NY/NJ Harbor) Estuary from 1989 to 2008.  Part of my job was to document what I saw as I patrolled the bays and rivers of the Harbor.

My other job was to tell the story of the Harbor as an ecological system, to record insults to it, and to develop strategies for its restoration.  I hope that this narrative and photographs will begin to tell that story of the working waterfront, the wetlands, waterways, and the people who work on and live nearby, that collectively are the threads of the tapestry that is the Harbor and the urban coast.

This urban wilderness is astonishing, not just for its beauty and bounty but for its diversity and tenacity.  It is a place that can make nature worshipers out of non- believers.  This extraordinary collection of rivers, harbors, bays, beaches, uplands, and primal mud is a celebration of water people, fish, commerce, and nature. It is the reason people settled here, and it is still the glue that holds the bio-region together.       

It is a living web of upland, fresh and salt water marshes, beaches, straits, and broad bays.  It is home to more than 150 species of fish, 300 bird species, and 20 million people. It feeds vast schools of migrating herring, shad, and striped bass, flocks of songbirds and raptors.  It nourishes people who eat from its bounty and seek recreation and rejuvenation in nature. It is also the world’s most urban harbor – a metropolitan mosaic of shimmering glass towers, looping highways, and gritty refineries, it is a region teeming with life and in need of ecological repair.

The Estuary — where freshwater streams mix with salty tides — cuts deeply into the coast, a 20-mile indent with 800 miles of shoreline. At the upper cusp is the western tip of Long Island. The Estuary swings counterclockwise from there and sweeps past New York City to New Jersey’s urban coast. At the southern end is the needle-thin peninsula of Sandy Hook

We live in a time of transition – movement into the Ecozoic Era, as Thomas Berry has called it. Signs are increasingly apparent: Peak oil, climate unpredictability, and ecological and economic instability. How are we to live into such a moment with intention and hope? How can we act on our commitment to life and the common good?

Local Groups like Baykeeper  are one way of getting to our future by design or default. “We can have a future we like, rather than the one we’re likely to get”.

Furniture and Sculpture 1968-1989

The following link is a power point  I put together for a panel at the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s  Riverport Wooden Boat School’s Celebration of Wood. It was fun to look back at some of the furniture and sculpture that I created for sale at exhibits, gallery shows and as commissions from institutions and individuals. It is also interesting that some of the work is starting to appear on auction sites for re-sale.

Andrew Willner Furniture and Sculpture

Autumn in America


Autumn in America

I woke up this morning in a new America.  One in which a misogynistic, Islamaphobic, anti-Semitic, ill informed, petulant,  no nothing candidate is now the President elect. My first thought as I read the news and the commentary was, “is this how Fascism comes to America?”

Then I looked out my kitchen window and the landscape hasn’t changed. It is still Fall in the mountains, our meadow in the rain has a muted beauty, and my companion of decades is next to me. My love for  and devotion to  my family and friends hasn’t changed.  My anxiety was still there this morning but so were the beginnings of resolve.  I am an old man who has spent his adult life in quixotic endeavors with mostly positive outcomes.  Now I must find a path forward that protects my grandchildren who will be growing up in a world of unknown menace.

A dystopian future that just yesterday seemed quaintly remote – giving us time to begin to build a locally based economy and support system is a clock that has just been reset.

A new economy, new inclusion, a different kind of franchise, cooperative food systems, local currency, local power, cooperative enterprises, renewed and stronger networks of like minded people,  have become urgent endeavors.   Despite what will be strong resistance by a significant portion of our population that will look at these ideas unsympathetically, we cannot be deterred.

The five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are supposedly a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with what has been lost. I am still in denial bordering on anger.  Bargaining seems useless, depression is not an option, and I cannot accept this outcome without raging against it. I thought I was done with my life’s work, and was at the stage where I should be passing on my knowledge and experience to a new generation, but instead I must  be prepared to participate in the revolution that will be needed to create and implement an alternative to what I fear is our future.


Beginning the Baykeeper

Ana Cecilia Maria Deustua Infante and City Atlas Published

Beginning the Baykeeper

New York City and its periphery host a $1.5 trillion economy, central to a world economy of about $100 trillion. Four hundred years ago, New York Harbor, and the Bay beyond it, was in a state of equilibrium with its human population; oysters filled the harbor bottom, and the surrounding hills and wetlands teemed with wildlife.

The eight million inhabitants of New York help define successful modern life around the globe, and at the same time, the coastal geography of the city puts New York on the front line of climate change and our civilization’s sustainability challenge. Research in the past few years shows that for New York, ‘sustainability’ has become a literal question.

This week, the New York Times reported on a new paper projecting sea level rise from potential ice loss in Antarctica: “The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities.” If so, New York would not have another 400 years.

The answer comes in how we change, or choose not to change.

Andrew Willner has been a leader of efforts to protect the waterways and land in New York and New Jersey for over twenty five years. Willner founded New York/New Jersey Baykeeper in 1989, running the organization till 2008. In recent years, science and policy have been catching up with his vision for a sustainable harbor. Ana Deustua interviewed him for City Atlas.

Why did you create the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper?

With a friend from South Street Seaport, I started a small boat building and repair yard on Staten Island. My daughter, who was 10 years old, came to the yard and it made me angry that she probably shouldn’t go swimming in the waters of Staten Island because of pollution. It infuriated me. I became angry at the idea that a beautiful body of water could be detrimental to my daughter’s health if she went swimming. I swam in it, but I didn’t want my child to swim in it.

I found out that there was a Riverkeeper on the Hudson River, a Soundkeeper in Long Island, and Baykeepers in Delaware and San Francisco. I began communicating with them and they helped me get the Baykeeper program started in the summer of 1989. I worked with Baykeeper for twenty years, until April 2008. It was a great opportunity for me, I really treasured it and it was the biggest challenge I have ever had.

What was your biggest accomplishment while running Baykeeper?

The biggest change since I was appointed baykeeper is that people didn’t see the New York Harbor as a natural resource. If I did anything in the 20 years that I was the baykeeper, it’s that we converted hundreds of thousands to think of the lower Hudson, the East River, New York Bay, Jamaica Bay, and Raritan Bay as their watery homes: places where they can go for recreation, fishing, and where they would identify with the waterfront within their community.

The waterfront has become one of the most appealing places to live. How is this trend changing the New York/New Jersey harbor estuary?

This race to the coast has several negative implications. More people and property are in harm’s way in storm surge and flood prone areas, the “centers” of older waterfront communities are being eroded in favor of the water’s edge, and the loss of “working waterfront” is a detriment to the region as a whole. Some people with means, and the developers on water’s edge buildings, will get an exclusive view and make a short term profit, while ultimately the externalities of sea level rise, storm ravages, and lack of planning and foresight are costs which will be borne by the rest of us. The other major problem is that privatization of the waterfront excludes the public from their commonly owned, public trust resources, to the advantage of the privileged few.

Would you let your daughter now swim in the Bay?

My daughter is now a Mom, and a physician. I can advise her but she is probably more equipped to determine whether or not, or where she and her children should swim. However, I continue to enjoy swimming in a variety of locations.

Are we prepared to keep New York Bay clean, as a rising sea level reaches inland?

I don’t think so. For example, most sewage treatment plants are in the floodway and may become inoperable. Toxic waste sites and garbage landfills will be underwater, petroleum and oil facilities are located on the waterfront and will be adversely affected by sea level rise, and abandoned businesses and residences will pollute the estuary for a very long time unless timely actions – including retreat from the shore – are instituted immediately. I am however fairly confident that none of this will be done in a timely way.

Why should New York lead the talk on sea level rise?

New York City, being an island metropolis, is also projected to be one of the five U.S. cities hardest hit by climate change and most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Likewise, our metropolis produces little of its own food and little else for its people’s basic needs. This puts our city and its surrounding communities in serious jeopardy.

New York is a coastal city and region. The very reasons it became an important port are now the things that will adversely affect the region’s infrastructure and people. On the positive side – “ If it can happen here it can happen anywhere.”

Keansburg Marsh, New Jersey (Photo: Andrew Willner)

Keansburg Marsh, New Jersey (Photo: Andrew Willner)

How did your work as baykeeper lead you to your current work?

During my work with New York/New Jersey Baykeeper from 1989-2008 I met and engaged with thousands of people from all walks of life and from all parts of the harbor. When I retired from Baykeeper I started a sustainability consulting firm to continue the work I was doing with environmentally conscious businesses, municipalities, and non-profit organizations.

Tell us your three steps to make the New York bioregion more resilient to climate change.

1. Become a leader in sustainability and resilience.

2. The people have to make their elected officials take action.

3. Be aware that real pain is associated with the changes needed to mitigate and avoid the effects of sea level rise and climate change.

Resilient communities are at the core of a “Too Small to Fail” future. If we don’t plan for more robust communities, and implement solutions for undeniable problems, a catastrophic crash seems inevitable. However crisis can equal opportunity, as we saw during the Great Depression and during World War II. But unless sensible plans to manage disaster are formulated and put forward now, the opportunity afforded by crisis could be hijacked by a more organized well-financed minority with an authoritarian agenda.

You’re an advocate for the Transition Town concept of a resilient, locally-based economy. Is New York City, with a population of 8 million, really a candidate for the Transition idea?

In short the answer is probably not. However, neighborhoods and coherent sections of the city, where urban agriculture, core community groups, and like-minded people are already intact, may be.

Here is what the “New Economy” for our bioregion might look like: it will prosper through an eclectic amalgam of business, non-profit and government innovation, including rooftop solar warehouses, wind farms, and tidal energy producers; urban and rural farmers, and rooftop apiaries; commercial fishermen, fish mongers, and fish farmers; local farmers markets, shoreline farmers, and seafood markets; a local water-based transportation system to bring goods to market; suburbia converted to interconnected “front yard” farms; a local currency used to pay for local commodities; buying and hiring locally; restored and created wetlands serving as nurseries for fish and wildlife and where blueberries and other produce can be sustainably harvested; sustainable forests that are logged selectively with an eye on future production; public works projects such as sea walls and sea gates as required to protect communities and valuable infrastructure against sea level rise; an economy of local businesses and micro-industries, including everything from brewers and butchers to cheese makers and toolmakers; from ship builders to bicycle builders; local wind turbine, solar collector, and tidal generator manufacturers and installers; shoemakers and fix it shops; composters and oil recyclers.

If we become a locally-focused region, what happens with the foods and products that can’t be grown or produced here?

The New York City bioregion is [already] connected tenuously to the rest of the world by literally thousands of lifelines, including an aging and increasingly failure-prone power grid; an aging and leaky water system; and a vast network of roads, rails, shipping and air routes that rely exclusively on increasingly costly fossil fuels. Like a patient on intravenous life support, any major interruption in the flow of natural resources, energy, water or food to the metropolitan area could hamstring or permanently harm its economy and people. With global oil, gas and coal production predicted to irreversibly decline in the next 10 to 20 years, this collapse becomes not a question of if, but when.

Most of the products we consume in New York City come from Asia or Europe, or by truck from California and the mid-west. New York is tied to these lifelines that extend around the world for fuel, but, when petroleum becomes too expensive to transfer, it’s going to be a crisis if we don’t get alternative sources. So food, energy and water are critical in the New York City region.

What would happen if the Transition Town approach worked in New York City?

It will demonstrate that it can work anywhere else.

What are the advantages of the ‘Main Street economy’ versus a ‘Wall Street economy’?

My grandfather started a lumber company with a friend who owned a pushcart. They scavenged construction sites, pulled nails out of and squared up any lumber they could find, and sold it for what it was – a recycled product. Later they built their company into a large wholesale/retail lumberyard, and eventually became a self-serve regional hardware and lumber company. But what my grandfather and my uncles, who eventually took over the business, never forgot was that they had an obligation to their employees, many of whom worked at the company for their entire careers. They sold a good product, treated their customers with respect, supported their community, and made a living for their families. After my uncles retired, their partner sold the company to a Fortune 500 company and within a few years it no longer existed.

I tell this story because this Main Street business was locally owned, locally rooted, and privately held. It was innovative, successful, and sold tools, materials, and services to people who became repeat customers because of the quality and customer service they received. As soon as their company became the property of Wall Street, all those values were lost and destroyed. Until then it had been too small to fail.

Growing evidence suggests that every dollar spent at a ‘too small to fail’ locally owned business generates two to four times more economic benefit – measured in income, wealth, jobs, and tax revenue – than a dollar spent at a globally owned business. That is because locally owned businesses spend much more of their money locally and thereby pump up the economic multiplier.

Under our present system, no local businesses receive any of our pension savings, or investments in mutual funds, or investment from venture capital firms, or hedge funds. The result is that we who invest do so in Fortune 500 companies we distrust, and under-invest in the local businesses we know are essential for local vitality. We need new mechanisms to enable investment in local, place-based, ‘too small to fail’ Main Street businesses.

Main Street investing is how the local economy once functioned. It was in the interest of well-off farmers, merchants, and small town banks to loan money to, and invest in, businesses that would hire local people, and make something that had value and created real wealth. Perhaps, along with a ‘buy local/hire local’ campaigns, ‘locavesting,’ – a resurgence of local currencies, and new public and community banks, and credit unions will reinvigorate our region’s Main Street economy.

How do social justice and environmental sustainability intersect?

Any plan for a resilient bioregional economy must insure that everyone has fundamental needs met for nutritious food, shelter, healthcare, education, and ecosystem services as a non-negotiable condition. This means such things as converting urban brownfields to greenfields, ensuring affordable housing, improving work opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and allowing seniors and children to play useful civic roles.

You posted a letter and proposal in 2013 called “A Call to Action.” In it you describe the risks of climate change in New York City and the benefits of the Transition movement. In three years since, what has changed?

Everything I wrote about in 2013 is coming true more quickly than I could have imagined, except for the response to the dire problems facing the region.

Willner is founder of New York/New Jersey Baykeeper (courtesy Andrew Willner)

Willner is founder of New York/New Jersey Baykeeper (courtesy Andrew Willner)

Pilgrim Pipelines OPED

Pilgrim oil pipelines threaten N.J.’s drinking water | Opinion


By Paul Gallay and Andrew Willner

The proposed Pilgrim pipelines are a direct threat to  the waters, wetlands, and communities of the New Jersey Highlands, New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Hudson Raritan Estuary.

Communities in the path of the pipelines are standing up in protest. And as former and present bi-state waterkeepers, we can attest to the very real risk that oil pipelines present to our precious water supplies and resources.

The record is clear. New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is aware that oil and water don’t mix.

We expect Seggos and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do the right thing: Take action to protect our environment and our climate by saying no to this ill-conceived, dangerous, and unnecessary fossil fuel project that if built, will leave us with the threat of another catastrophic spill into our waterways for the next 50 years.

Related: Reflexive opposition to Pilgrim pipeline is misplaced | Editorial

In New Jersey, Pilgrim’s proposal cuts across three major drinking water rivers, numerous smaller streams and two EPA designated sole source aquifers (the Ramapo Aquifer and the Buried Valley Aquifer).

In New York, Pilgrim’s proposed pipelines would cross 232 streams and 8 aquifers, including the Hudson, Wallkill, and Ramapo rivers, and Coxsackie, Esopus, and Catskill creeks. The Catskill and Delaware aqueducts, which supply water to New York City, would also be crossed.

A major pipeline spill could contaminate the drinking water for the several million people and dozens of municipalities who rely on these key water sources.  If a pipeline spill were to contaminate the Hudson River watershed in New York or the Ramapo River or Buried Valley aquifers in New Jersey, irreplaceable water sources beneath the anticipated route of the Pilgrim pipelines, it could take decades before the water for millions of residents would be safe to consume.

This is an issue that affects much of our region, as water from the NY/NJ Highlands is used by communities as far away as Newark.

And such a spill is statistically inevitable. Federal regulators report that between 2003 and 2013, one pipeline incident occurred on average every other day.

These significant risks bring to mind the event that first brought us together: a ghastly spill from the Exxon refinery in Linden on New Year’s Day in 1990, when more than 500,000 gallons of oil leaked from a pipeline into New York Harbor’s Arthur Kill waterway.

Related: Christie must come clean in oily Exxon settlement

One month, the state claims the damage is “staggering” and “unprecedented.” Now its outrage can be paclfied for three cents on the dollar.

We met in the aftermath of that New Year’s Day spill in our respective roles as an attorney for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the newly appointed Baykeeper for the waters of New York Harbor that included the Arthur Kill.  The more than 500,000 gallons of oil leaked for many hours before the U.S. Coast Guard was even notified, and damaged hundreds of acres of wetlands, killed thousands of migratory ducks and other birds, and had incalculable destructive effects on the wildlife and communities surrounding the Arthur Kill in Staten Island and New Jersey.We worked together for more than a year to help to develop a plan that cleaned up the spilled oil (the Coast Guard estimated that less than 20 percent of the oil was recovered), what the appropriate fines were, and what natural resource damages should be assessed for the serious, and permanent environmental and societal damage caused by the spill.

In the face of Pilgrim’s proposal to build 170 miles of new fossil fuel pipeline through New York and New Jersey’s most precious waterways and resources, we agree that we never wish to repeat our 1990 experience and oversee a response to a statistically inevitable Pilgrim pipelines spill into the Hudson, one of its tributaries, the drinking water reservoirs of the NY/NJ Highlands, or the ecologically important wetlands habitats of the Hudson/Raritan Estuary.

Ironically, the pipeline’s’ proposed terminus is the same refinery in Linden, from which the 1990 Bayway spill occurred. After decades of ecological abuse and after being fined and required to pay millions of dollars in natural resource damages, the risk of releases from this facility and the pipelines that lead to it are just as great as they were in 1990.

More than just our drinking water is at stake. In New Jersey, the pipelines are proposed to cross trout reproduction streams and other Category 1 streams, as well as five or more sites containing rare and state endangered plant species. The proposed route also crosses numerous (New Jersey) Green Acres Program sites, including a number of state and county parks, reservations and reservoirs.

And communities and fragile environments do not easily, quickly or completely recover from such environmental insults. Communities along the Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull in New York and New Jersey are still recovering from the multiple spills from the early 1990s, as are the wetlands and other habitats — some of the only natural spaces in those communities. Wetlands in Rhode Island are still leaking oil after a spill that occurred more than 40 years ago, and in Minnesota, despite efforts to clean up an oil spill that polluted an aquifer in 1979, the water still wasn’t safe to drink in 1996, 17 years later.

Can we afford to put these precious natural resources and the drinking water for millions of New York and New Jersey residents at risk?

We are among thousands of people and local elected officials who understand that despite Pilgrim’s assurances, if the pipelines are built, there will be spills, and once again the region will be faced with a decades-long cleanup.

Andrew Willner is the Baykeeper Emeritus for NY/NJ Baykeeper. He retired in 2008, served on the Baykeeper Board for seven years, and lives in Rosendale, NY. Paul Gallay, an attorney formerly with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, is president of Hudson Riverkeeper and lives in Cold Spring, N.Y.

Terry Backer, Soundkeeper A Remembrance by Andrew Willner, NY/NJ Baykeeper Emeritus

Backer 1

Terry Backer Soundkeeper August 3, 1964-December 14, 2014

On behalf of Terry’s family, friends, colleagues, and to everyone he touched in his much too brief time on this earth, I want to say farewell. Terry loved life but understood that our time in this world is finite. In one of our several conversations over the last few months, Terry told me this, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” But leave it, and us, he has, and it has left a huge hole where his oversized presence once was.

I don’t how to begin to grieve. John Gunther, writing about the death of his son from a brain tumor in Death Be Not Proud, said:

My grief, I find, is not desolation or rebellion at universal law or deity. I find grief to be much simpler and sadder… All the things he loved tear at my heart because he is no longer here on earth to enjoy them. All the things he loved.

I read somewhere that “Every man dies – Not every man really lives.” Terry lived!  He lived, and he shared the stories of his life: about the Sound, about being a waterman lobstering with his dad, about being a woodsman in the Pacific northwest, about hitchhiking across the country, about his love for his family and its robust history, about his community, his constituents, his colleagues in the legislature, about being the Soundkeeper, about the founding of the Waterkeeper movement, about the people around the globe whose lives he touched.

Terry was a big man. When I first met him, and before I got to know him, my impression was only of physical strength. That impression served him well in negotiating on behalf of his beloved Sound. But Terry also had a big heart, and a bigger intellect. He was gentle and a gentleman. He was smart in so many ways.  He knew history, literature, art, and science; he was worldly and yet his focus was local; he was a politician in the true sense of the word, regarding citizens or matters of state. He wrote and helped to pass landmark legislation; he went to court on behalf of, and to give a voice to, those on the Sound; he reached out to Waterkeepers around the world, and to friends, not just in Connecticut, but throughout his beloved America, an America whose future, about which he was very worried, and did everything he could to make sure that we stay on the right path. Terry researched and was beginning to implement innovative post-carbon technologies.

Terry never gave up on America. His legacy—which it now falls to us to implement in his honor—is to forge communities, states, nations, and, indeed, a world where care of the earth, care of people, and a “fair share” is part of our hopeful future.

Backer LegislatorTerry once gave me a tour of the Connecticut state capitol. He knew the name of everyone we met. His colleagues and staff treated him with a combination of intimacy and deference. It was obvious that he was held in the highest regard by his peers. Governor Malloy said about Terry, after learning of his death, “Terry Backer will always be remembered at the state Capitol as a larger-than-life crusader who was passionate about Stratford, unwavering in his love of Long Island Sound, and deeply dedicated to his lifelong mission to preserve the waterways for future generations. The authenticity of his advocacy was only matched by his unforgettable approach—he truly embodied his cause in the halls of the Capitol. He had profound impact on the state’s environmental and energy policies.”

The Sound was at the center of his being. Those of us in the Waterkeeper movement understand this better than most. Rick Dove, a dear friend and an imposing warrior of a Waterkeeper, said, “Terry Backer, the one and only Long Island Soundkeeper, has passed. There are no words that can adequately describe the depth of this loss. Terry will always be remembered for his awesome contribution to Long Island Sound, but even more than that, for all that he did to help build the world’s greatest environmental water protection organization, the Waterkeeper Alliance. Rest in peace dear friend, inspired by your work, we will follow in your footsteps and remember you always as the greatest of Waterkeepers.”

Terry as usual had the last word. Just a little while ago, speaking about the Sound and Soundkeeper, he told an interviewer, “It’s been a labor of love. It was the catalyst for a global movement that affects millions of people. You know what?     I can now say if I end up at the golden gates, pearly gates—whatever they might be—if I was asked, ‘Did you have a useful life?’ I’d be able to say I did the best I can, and it was useful enough because it engaged all these people into helping the environment.”

Everyone has “a first time I met Terry story.” Here is mine: My friendship with Terry goes back to 1989, when I was an aspiring Baykeeper, longing to bring the model that John Cronin, Mike Herz, Cynthia Poten, and Terry had passionately crafted to my home waters, the bays and rivers of New York Harbor. Terry never answered my phone calls or letters, so one day I just went to see him. I knocked on the door of his office above the oyster house and said, “I want to be the Baykeeper.” He got up, flexed his shoulders and crossed his weight lifter’s arms, and in that gravelly voice of his said, “You showed up, that and persistence is 90 percent of this job. You passed the first test. Now let’s see what we can do to get you started.”

He was imposing. Before he got to know Terry and the rest of us “graybeards,” Bruce Resnick, another Waterkeeper friend and colleague, once called Terry, Joe Payne, and me the “Popeye Waterkeepers.” We took it as a compliment. Bruce and a lot of the second generation of Waterkeepers soon learned that an imposing appearance is incredibly useful for Waterkeeping.

Terry served as a Waterkeeper Alliance Board member from 1999 until his death.  From the originalsthat first board meeting around an outdoor table in eastern Long Island, John Cronin, Bobby Kennedy, and the rest of a small group of founders created a vision. Terry saw Waterkeeper grow from less than twenty to almost 280 independent Waterkeepers on six continents.

Terry was the primary ambassador and mentor to new programs. He traveled internationally, and gave his cell phone number to any Keeper who asked, told them to call any time–and he answered their calls. At our yearly gatherings, he was constantly speaking with any of the new—and some not so new—Waterkeepers who sought his advice. More than any of the rest of us, Terry embodied everything a Waterkeeper might aspire to.

Somehow I always wound up speaking right after Terry at Waterkeeper gatherings, and always had to start by saying, “What a hard act to follow.” Terry was an impossible act to follow. Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same. Terry will always be in my heart.

Terry and I had different spiritual belief systems, but I know that his conviction that God exists gave him comfort, and typical of Terry, not so much comfort for himself, but to assure his friends and family that he is part of a larger plan, that his spirit has gone home.

I hope that in his next life he is at peace, that there is no pain, that he is at the helm of a well found vessel, on a heading to a safe harbor, with clean water, oysters and lobsters, gardens, orchards, forests, and a place for rest.

Farewell Terry, goodbye my friend, I wish you fair tides and a wind at your back, God speed.  Thank you, Terry, for giving us so much. I love you and miss you, my brother.


Growing Power, CityFood, and Duke Farms Regional Training Center

pg 1 rtc brochure

Growing Power, CityFood, and Duke Farms RTC Brochure 

pg2 RTC BrochureSlide1Growing power logoThree organizations have come together to bring Growing Power’s urban agriculture training to the NY/NJ metropolitan area.  A unique partnership between Growing Power , CityFood Resources , and Duke Farms has resulted in a new way for urban farmers to get the training they need in all aspects of urban farming.

Training will occur at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ that has access from New York City, Newark, and other urban centers by rail.  Scholarships are available and additional programs are in the works.  For more information contact Kevin Moore Farms Logo



Making Pear Cider

In 2012 Wayne Weiseman, Dan Halsey, and I were commissioned to do a Permaculture final final-plan-300x198Master Plan for the Neu Farm in Franklin Township, Hunterdon County, NJ.  The farm is spectacular;  it is 110 acres about 40 acres in fields and the balance in forest.

There is a pre-revolutionary war stone farm house (that had one time been a tavern on the stage route to New Brunswick), a 19th century bank barn and several other beautiful
DSCF6664structures.  The farm is bordered by the Capoolong Creek and transected by the Sydney Brook, two tributaries of the Raritan River.   From top of the hill you can see the Delaware Water Gap.

Beginning with an interview with Wendy Neu the following key words were generated for The Permaculture Master Plan:Vitality, Activity, Robust, Replenish, Farming, Forestry, Healthy, Exhilarating, Peaceful, Sanctuary, and Safe Place.  Based on those key words the goal for agriculture (among several others) was developed.

  • CSA
  • Market Garden                            IMG_4180
  • Bee Hives
  • Placement: cropping areas
  • Orchard
  • Pasture
  • Green House(s)
  • Integrated Farming
  • Fruits
  • Herbs
  • Nuts
  • Kitchen Gardens

As we planned for the Neu Farm we took countless details into consideration. The farm is becoming a sanctuary and a small organic farming operation where people will also come to learn, where animals, plants and humans are in balance, and hands-on learning through direct experience will be implemented.Our plan was based in large part on the following:

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we cannot sidestep the fact that we are witnessing chaotic changes in weather patterns across the country (and the world). Regardless of whether we can pinpoint the cause and affect weather-related events that are arriving at an ever-increasing rate, we need to do the right thing.

Three additional projects were anticipated in the Permaculture Plan; a flood plain and shadowstream corridor restoration project, a carriage horse sanctuary, and an experiential education program called Wellbeing Farm. (a more comprehensive version of Wellbeing Farm is a post on this blog)..

One of the first projects undertaken was the rejuvenation of an existing orchard.  There were several older pear trees still bearing but in need of Peter in Orchardserious pruning and other care.  About a ½ acre was fenced for deer protection and heirloom apples, stone fruit, and perennials like blueberries, persimmons, black raspberries, and kiwis were planted.

This past Fall, based in significant part on the expertise of organic orchardist Peter Tischler, we had an abundance of pears.  Rather than letting them go to waste or pearsmaking a small amount of sauce or dried fruit as we did the year before, we decided to make pear hard cider also called Perry or Poire’.  All cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented crushed fruit, typically apples, primarily done  to preserve the harvest (and calories)

America’s love affair with hard cider stretches back to the first English settlers. Native trees were mostly crab apples so seeds and seedlings were imported from England. Grafting sweet apples to native trees started American cider production.With water quality
cider millquestionable, cider became the beverage of choice on the early American dinner table. Even children drank Ciderkin, a weaker alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace (the pulpy matter remaining after some other substance has been pressed or crushed) in water.By the hard ciderturn of the eighteenth Century, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year. As the settlers began moving west, they brought along their love for cider.

Many of us were taught about Johnny Appleseedwho turns out to be a real appleseed-first-depictionperson whose name was John Chapman and was a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church, who plantedand grafted small, fenced-in nurseries of cider apple trees throughout the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley.Some of those nineteenth centuryhomesteads still have a small cider orchard.

Cider started losing out to beer as the drink of choice during the early 1900’s. German and Eastern European immigrants brought preferred beer over cider, and the soil in the Midwest was more barley-friendly, so beer production was easier.However it was Prohibition and its restrictions on alcohol and the prohibitionVolstead Act limiting production of sweet cider to 200 gallons a year per orchard. Prohibitionists also burned countless fields of trees to the ground and surviving orchards began cultivating sweeter (non-cider) apples.

Today cider making is on the rise in the US. While cheap apples are available in grocery stores from half way around the world, American orchardists have turned to cider to keep their farms profitable. More and more cider makers are showing up every year.

With hard cider making a comeback across the country, apple growers are tapping a new revenue stream by establishing farmstead cideries and planting varieties too tart or tannic for eating but perfect for smashing and fermenting into alcoholic cider.

 “We’re planting a lot of new trees so we can meet the demand for cider,” said Dan Wilson, owner of Hicks Orchard and Slyboro Ciderhouse on the Vermont border in Granville. “This year we planted 2,000 cider varieties and next year we’ll plant 2,500 in high-density orchards.”

slyboroSlyboro is among 10 craft producers who banded together to form the Hudson Valley Cider Alliance to establish hard cider and apple spirits as signature products of the region.Doc’s Draft Hard Ciders, one of the few making a pear cider in Warwick, NY.

Peter is planting a cider orchard at New Ark Farms in north-west NJ.  New Jersey is also home to nearly 60 registered orchards and boasts one award winning apple wine producer and a new cider producer.  Twisted Limb is a cidery producing alcoholic cider near Newton NJ.  As of October 16, 2014 there was cidery and meadery licensing  bill before the NJ Legislature. That says in part:

 “In New Jersey, we’ve done a great deal of legislation to encourage our New Jersey-based wineries and craft breweries, which has created jobs and economic stimulus for our region,” said Lampitt. “This bill builds on that momentum by updating outdated laws. By providing support to cideries and meaderies in New Jersey, we are taking the next step in helping our homegrown industries thrive.” “As the Garden State, New Jersey should be leading the way when it comes to developing products from fruit and honey, not getting left Widg-cidersbehind by our draconian liquor laws,” said Senator Norcross. “We have proven time and again that craft products from this state are in high demand. Let’s capitalize on our rich agriculture industry and spur economic growth in the process.” Bill S2461/A3740 creates a cidery and meadery license which permits the holder to manufacture a maximum of 25,000 barrels of hard cider and 25,000 barrels of mead and to sell these products to wholesalers and retailers in New Jersey and other states.”

 New Jersey is also home to the Laird & Company that has been making Apple-Jack since 1780 in Colts Neck/Scobeyville, NJ.  Although I knew this distillery was somewhere in Monmouth County, it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered it by accident while getting lairdsest1780some apples from a u-pick orchard just across the road from the old homestead and distillery.  It occurred to me that some of the trees I was picking from might be descendants of the trees that the apples for the first batch of apple-jack were picked.   I stopped at a liquor store on the way home and bought a bottle.  That cool evening in front of the stove I enjoyed a sweet cider, “fire-cider,” (our bottle came down the Hudson on Ceres, the Vermont Sail Freight sailing barge)  and Laird’s Apple-Jack cocktail – refreshing and delicious.

 “For almost 300 years, the art of producing Apple-Jack has been passed down through generation of the Laird Family.  Laird was America’s first commercial distillery with License #1. “

That said we didn’t have apples but pears. So we decided to make Perry or Poire’.  Perry is similar to apple cider but is made from pear juice instead of apples.  It is usually smoother, slightly sweeter, less sharp in flavor than apple cider.  Like apple cider there are steps to production.

  • Harvest and store the pears until ripe
  • Pulping and pressing the pears
  • Fermenting the juice
  • And bottling the Perry.

Once the pears were ripe we needed a cider press.  I first looked for a used one but no luck, so I bought a new one from Pleasant Hill Grain .  In the meantime Peter had picked  30+ bushels of pears and was waiting for them to ripen enough to be able to crush the (10)

Once the fruit was ripe three of us, Peter, Dennis Fabis, and I manually crushed the pears IMG_1800 and then put them through the press.  There was a lot of juice (delicious right from the press), about gallon a bushel IMG_4555.  The juice was stored in clean pails.  At the end of the day there was a lot of pulp for feeding to local pigs, a lot of sticky equipment to clean, and a lot of cider alchemy going on to begin the fermentation process.  Hard work but the reward was a gallon of fresh juice for all of us to take home, and ultimately the equivalent of two hundred beer bottle sized portions of hard pear cider that we decided to call Johnny’s Hard Cider with a nod to John Neu.

Fermentation began after Peter added wine maker’s yeast and some brown sugar for an extra kick,  little bit of tannin for sharpness,  wine makers acid blend, and raisins for body.  The juice was left in open IMG_4559fermentation For the next week the cider was really active, you could see surface churning from all the CO2 being generated.   When the fermentation started to slow, the buckets were racked into 5  gallon glass carboys with a bubbler on top to let some gas escape and prevent the cider from turning into vinegar.  In early December the cider was racked to get the sediment out,  into clean carboys.  Peter also tested the bottled cideralcohol levels of the cider it was pretty good.  It also tasted great (it will eventually be 6-7% alcohol).  In early Spring the cider will be racked into bottles and kegs to increase the carbonation.  Peter’s advice to me was to “drink a lot of beer this winter and save the bottles.”

This experiment may lead to a full scale cidery at the Neu farm and perhaps a tasting room in the basement of the stone farm house that was once a tavern..DSCF6602


If Not Now, When? An Old Sailor Signs On

A version of this blog post was first published on the Vermont Sail Freight’s Captain’s (b)log 

In a January 2014 on my blog I talked about the choices this old “sailor” was considering as I looked at 70.  In that piece I wrote about my interest in the Vermont Sail Freight

Vermont Sail Freight ProjectProject,  “the Vermont Sail Freight Project is the furthest along of these ideas.  Founded and implemented by Erik Andrus a farmer in Ferrisburgh, VT.  VSFP is a slow tech approach to energy and a resilient food system.

Erik has said about the project, “The Vermont Sail Freight Project originated out of our farm’s commitment to resilient food systems.  Producing food sustainably is not enough.  The other half is sustainable transport of goods to market and equitable exchange.  A good portion of the damage conventional agriculture does to society and the environment is through our overblown, corporation-dominated distribution systems.  The idea of a small, producer-owned craft sailing goods to market, perhaps even a distant market, is an alternative to this system, and one which has served our region well in the past. “

I signed on in significant part because Ceres, Erik, and the crew confirm my belief in preserving the skills of the past to serve the future.  The Vermont Sail Freight Project appealed to my head and heart in significant part because I agreed with Erik when he said to a member of a television crew, “I offered my belief that contrary to the techno-paradise that some expect, my belief is that our future will likely resemble our past, and that we mayhorses working fall back on proven, low energy approaches to supporting human life that have been historically proven to work.  “Isn’t that pessimistic?” asked the interviewer.  I replied that I don’t think so.  It is in my view even more pessimistic to imagine a world continuing on the current path, becoming a place in which there is no place for human labor or creativity, where rather than doing things with our backs and hands and minds, we must instead wait passively for conveniences and solutions to be marketed to us.   That, to me, is the most depressing future imaginable.”

The adventure started when I picked up Captain Steve Schwartz on my way to Vermont.  I met Steve briefly late last summer before Ceres’ first trip, and we exchanged emails when he learned that I was going to be a crew member.  We talked constantly all the way from IMG_4026the Hudson Valley to Erik’s farm.  It turns out we are close enough in age to share musical taste and Vietnam War draft board experiences.  (Maybe I will do another post about this to the tune of Alice’s Restaurant).

We also have Hudson and Harbor stories and friends in common from Steve’s long term commitment to Clearwater as Captain of the Sloop Woody Guthrie, to his friendship with and my appreciation of the work and life of Pete Seeger, from my days as mate on the Schooner Pioneer, and because of the people I met during my 20 years on the water in the Harbor and lower Hudson as the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

The next few days were an amazing ballet (or rugby scrum depending on your point of IMG_3986view) of riggers adding a topsail and outer jib, food shopping for a crew of four, moving and loading the cargo totes, trading one ailing outboard for a used but working one, deciding on last minute changes to the schedule, loading on personal gear, and finally getting underway.

But more than that I learned firsthand why Erik is so passionate about this project.  One of the reasons he asked me to help out for a few critical weeks was because he was in the middle of planting rice in a “paddy” that he had constructed in a low lying part of his farm.  It was eye opening to see what goes into the preparation and planting of this specialty northern variety.IMG_3956

He was also up early baking bread, for sale at a nearby farmers market from local grains in the wood fired oven that he had built.  Erik’s quest for resilient food became more apparent as I saw the dedication to local production and distribution that the bakery epitomized and that the care that IMG_3962went into the preparation of the muddy field for the rice.

It was also apparent that he put the same kind of thoughtfulness and consideration (and appropriate business model) into buying the local shelf stable products outright from neighboring farmers.  The cargo of mostly Vermont maple syrup, honey, preserves, cider syrup, “fire” cider, herbal teas, grains, flour, and beans meant cash in the pocket at a time when many farmers are strapped.

I watched from land as Ceres left the town dock in Vergennes, turned down stream just IMG_4013under the falls and disappeared around the bend in Otter Creek on the way to the Lake. Ceres and her crew, Captain Steve, Meade Atkeson, and Matt Horgan spent the first night anchored in one of the most beautiful shorelines on Lake Champlain, Button Bay just off the State Park.  The next morning Erik rejoined the boat along with Edward and Gary from the French television program Thalassa   for the trip down the Lake. I was not on board (that’s a whole other story), but.  I was fortunate to stand on a bluff above the bay and able to watch the boat get underway, Vermont-Sail-Freight-Setting-Sailand raise all sail for what proved to be an amazing downwind “sleigh ride,” shaking out the new topsail that Steve described as a “turbocharger.”

I caught up with the boat at Whitehall, NY.  Whitehall is like a town encased in amber.  Its IMG_3786nineteenth century brick buildings face the canal, many empty and waiting for the resurgence of canal traffic to reanimate this once thriving town.  It was at Whitehall that we took the rig down (with the boat’s own gear) for the canal passage.  We spent the evening in a waterfront bar, as sailors should, and got underway through the first of ten locks the next morning.  This was my first trip through the canal, and the only other lock I had been through was the one connecting Lake Union to the Puget Sound in Seattle.  Steve was a veteran of last year’s trip and drilled the crew on handling the boat through the locks.

The Champlain Canal is a 60 miles long.  It connects the south end of Lake Champlain, to IMG_4042the Hudson River. It was built at the same time as the Erie Canal and was completed and opened in 1823 from Fort Edward to Lake Champlain.  The canal carried commercial traffic until the 1970’s.  Today, except for the tugs, crew boats, dredges, and barges connected to the General Electric PCB clean up, most of the traffic is recreational boats that can travel up Lake Champlain to the Chambly Canal that connects the Lake to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.