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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Terry 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 that 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 RTC Brochure
Three 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2012 Wayne Weiseman, Dan Halsey, and I were commissioned to do a Permaculture Master 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
structures. 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.
- Market Garden
- Bee Hives
- Placement: cropping areas
- Green House(s)
- Integrated Farming
- 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 stream 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 serious 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 making 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
questionable, 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 turn 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 person 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 Volstead 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.”
Slyboro 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 behind 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 some 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 fruit.
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 . 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 fermentation 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 alcohol 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.”
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
Project, “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 may 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 the 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 view) 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.
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 went 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 under 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, and 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 nineteenth 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 the 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.
I have started a petition on Change.org to get support for the Climate Speech Presiident Obama must Make
OPED News has posted “The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make“
The Yonkers Tribune published an oped on The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make
14U News published a link to the Climate Speech President Obama Must Make
US Politics Today published The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make
Living Green Magazine posted The Climate Speech President Obama Must Make
The Moral Dilemma of Continued Fossil Fuel Use in an Age of Climate Change
Over the past decade we have seen horrific drought in California and Texas, India and Africa; record floods on the Mississippi and Missouri, in Britain, and Pakistan; the worst wildfires in history in the American West, Australia and Russia. Everywhere around the globe, climate change is bringing an unprecedented escalation in human suffering and economic harm.
And yet, the global average temperature has risen by a mere degree. Scientists tell us that if we do nothing, we could easily see twice as much, or 4 to 5 times more warming, by century’s end, fueling disastrous weather never before seen by civilization. Rapidly melting ice caps; rising sea levels; intensifying heat waves, super storms and mega droughts; acidifying oceans and dying coral reefs, collapsing water supplies, declining crop harvests, teeming eco-refugees and escalating global conflict are happening now, and going to get much worse, says the newest Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change report. The climate disasters endured so far, and dire events to come, threaten an unparalleled wave of human suffering — making climate change the dominant moral issue of the 21st century.
Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, endangers our children and their children — civilization itself. If President Obama is to respond to this crisis, he must do so now with the same moral courage and frankness with which Franklin Roosevelt faced the Great Depression and the fascists in World War II, and with which Lincoln dealt with the pro-slavery South.
President Obama’s legacy will clearly be judged on his ability to emancipate us from the economic and corporate tyranny of fossil fuels. This requires his directly challenging the lies of the climate deniers who have put us on the path to planetary ecocide — the “Oil Eight,” the Koch Brothers, and an uninformed or completely out of touch media, that is ruining our democracy with Citizen’s United and other political outrages, and wrecking our ecosystems and economy with fracking, the ta rsands Keystone XL pipeline, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and other offenses against humanity and nature.
As worldwide human suffering and the economic crisis brought by climate change deepens, the President must lead. He must decide whether our fossil fuel addiction is “right” or “wrong.” He must base the rightness and wrongness of this addiction not only on science or economics but on the principles of human justice. It is time for the President to direct moral outrage at the treacherous obfuscations of the fossil fuel industry and its calculated attack on our environment, our democracy, and on governments and habitat worldwide.
The President will not likely come to this decision or this declaration on his own. As with Roosevelt and Lincoln, Obama must be brought to the decision by the people. Activist Bill McKibben of 350.org argues convincingly that, “The fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry.” He declares that if these rogue corporations continue to have their way, “We stand to emit five times as much CO2 as even the most conservative government says is safe,” damning the civilized world. “The fuel will definitely be burned unless we change the story line.”
Only we, the American people, can change this story line. The new narrative we create must include the voices of farmers and farmworkers losing their crops and livelihoods to California’s drought; the ranchers who lost their herds to searing heat in Texas and Oklahoma; the Coloradans who lost their homes to record flood and fire; the citizens of Tuscaloosa and Joplin who lost their towns to tornadoes; the people of Far Rockaway, New York, and New Orleans who lost their communities to hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
This new narrative, directly connecting unprecedented human suffering to climate change, will not arise out of international conferences or on the floor of Congress. Instead it will push up from the bottom. This new story line must come from the heart, be as unyielding in its principles, and as unflinching in its sense of moral indignation as was William Lloyd Garrison when he demanded slavery’s abolition in 1831. Garrison wrote in the Liberator:
“I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm: tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.”.
The future of our children is in the balance. Life on this earth is at risk. As our world teeters on the edge of catastrophic climate change, we must demand that President Obama lead. He must oppose the morally corrupt fossil fuel industry with the courage of one who carries forward the flag in a just cause, serving all humankind. The President must commit us to building America’s future and the world’s future on a new, sane, sustainable economic footing. This is what he should say:
Emancipation from Fossil Fuels: A New Birth of Freedom
Most of the links in blue indicate that the entire paragraph is a quote from the President or other world leaders
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens: Good evening, I come before the Congress and the People of the United States tonight because no country can hide from the horrific harm of carbon pollution, the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry, their paid denier minions, or the reality of the great danger we face as a nation. Continue reading
With Apologies to Jimmy Buffett (who is also looking at 70)
I was sitting with a valued friend the other night beside the pot belly stove in his boat building shop with a cup of tea at hand. We were talking, as usual, about life, choices made, roads not taken, and my reluctance to do what always makes me happiest – starting a new adventure. Faced with this vexing problem I talked it through with my friend. He is always honest, and gives his opinion with insight, compassion, and clarity. This decision is a tough one. I have lots of excuses not to embark on the next adventure, but the voyager in me is restless.
I don’t know what is preventing me from moving on – commitments to my loving family (perceived and real), a job where I still feel useful, the gloomy winter weather, or the fact my mortality is creeping up on me, but I feel a bit like Ishmael in Moby Dick.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
My friend and his wife had recently, after talking about it for years, made the choice to move to coastal Maine from central New Jersey. When I asked why now? His answer was, “if not now, when?”
After more than 45 years at work as a planner, woodworker, homesteader, boat builder, sailing vessel captain, environmental advocate – all of it challenging, some of it difficult, and much of it out doors, my thoughts have turned to a more sedentary life with more time spent by the wood stove with a good book, or time in the wood shop, but despite the appeal of that choice, my mind churns out a hundred new ideas a day. I write about them now, but it is not as satisfying as using my artist’s skills, picking out one of many plans (damn the consequences), envisioning how it might look like when completed, figuring out what resources and people have to be in place to make it happen, and just doing it, in other words, if not now, when?
The following quote by Sterling Hayden has made me realize how complacent I have become. Although written about sailing I think it applies to any person’s life, no matter the path they choose:
“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… cruising, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone. What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?” Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)
As quoted by Stuart Kiehl
I have been wondering what’s next because I would like to stretch myself and do something that calls for new perspectives. I have had varied careers, but I am thinking I should make one more significant change, to make a contribution that will take full engagement of heart and mind. I want to go voyaging not cruising.
My friend asked me a few months ago why I am so interested in food. I facetiously answered, “Because I like to eat.” But the real reason is obviously much more intertwined with the work in which I am engaged on climate change, “Peak Everything,” Permaculture, Transition, and social resiliency.
Food is at the heart of how we change the disastrous status quo. How and where food is grown and by whom, how it is distributed and transported, where the water and energy come from to grow it, and thousands of other components provide a focus for me.
I have been spending my “free time” working on three interconnected ideas, Wellbeing Farm, CityFood, and The Vermont Sail Freight Project. Of these, Wellbeing Farm is the most comprehensive and encompasses several of the ideas that I have been thinking about for years..
The mission of Wellbeing Farm is to provide the means to survive the decades ahead as individuals, communities, and bioregions; to determine pragmatic implementable methods of transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels, and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible. We will help to create ethical lifestyle changes, teach appropriate technologies that provide benefits rather than cause harm, foster self-reliance, and promote Slow technology through hands-on practice for students, professional practitioners from rural, suburban, and urban areas. We will do so by taking lessons from nature, through care and love of the environment, by developing the skills necessary in all areas of life, and by incorporating the values of care of the earth, care of people, ethical sharing of any surplus, and by teaching that actions have consequences, and that we have responsibilities for ourselves and others.
CityFood is a partnership in several senses. It is the idea of three colleagues, and it is about to establish another collaboration with Will Allen’s Growing Power to build a “training center” and urban farms in northern, NJ.
- CityFood™ is a “triple bottom line” vertically integrated sustainable green business consulting firm and incubator focused on developing urban agricultural facilities, fostering farm and urban relationships, and infrastructure and logistics for local food.
- CityFood™ identifies and rehabilitates industrial real estate, designs and develops aquaponics and hydroponics facilities that will provides living wage jobs.
- The organically grown vegetables and fish will be sold on site or through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture.
- CityFood will redevelop space for start-up and small local food processing, alternative energy demonstration projects for solar, wind and geothermal businesses while powering/heating/and lighting the facilities.
The Vermont Sail Freight Project (VSFP) 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 food, energy, and a resilient food system.
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.
The VSFP appeals to my head and heart. I have thrown what little influence and connections I have behind Erik’s project after learning about it through Jan Lundberg’s Sail Tranport Network while I was working on my own idea for transporting farm goods by sail called HARVEST.
Two of these projects would be full time and may require a move. All of them would necessitate a huge amount of time, a significant reduction in income, and disruption of my routine – sounds like I should be heeding Sterling’s advice “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse.”
My friend also pointed out that I am now officially an “elder.” The term brings to mind a traditional society where age equals knowledge and respect, and where younger members of a community would seek out the elders for advice. I began to wonder what being an elder means in our society where age is often equated with a burden on the state, ill health, poverty, and loss of respect.
One elder skill I possess is that I actually remember the “60’s and 70’s” when many of us were involved in anti-war conscientious objection, racial integration, back to the land, growing and preserving home grown fruit and vegetables, making clothing, brewing beer and wine, setting up housing communities and cooperatives. This all got derailed by the 1980’s oil glut and Reganomics , with its promised shiny future powered by endless resources. If there is one thing I could pass onto younger members of the community, it should be: “don’t ever let this happen again.”
So, I find myself wanting to teach, to start to pass on a lifetime of experiences, but not in a sterile classroom of some university, or seminars at conferences. I want to engage young people (and those not so young) who are looking for something meaningful and unique – for those who really want to change our world by preserving the skills of the past to serve the future.
I could continue to write about my ideas or I can get out in the world, teach by example, and take one more crack at it. I will probably not live to see the final implementation of any of these projects, and I am OK with that.