We went up on a nearby ridge on a gorgeous day last weekend, and drove through the central New York farmland. This area, in general, is quite depressed economically, and every time I've gone recently I've been able to see the deterioration, which seems most apparent to me in the towns, where more and more shops are empty or boarded up, and increasing numbers of individual properties seem to be in disrepair. Unemployment is high, and several factories have closed or moved. Yet, in the grocery stores, where a lot of people looked pretty down-and-out, prices were higher than in Montreal.
Beans in the foreground; cabbages (blue-ish) in the middle distance beyond the trees and grass.
Family farms have been hard hit here, as they have been all across the country. But recently things have seemed a bit better. One development in recent years has been an influx of Amish and Mennonite families from further south. They, and some other enterprising local farmers, are leading a revival of community supported agriculture, through CSA food-basket shares, and the sale of cash crops, eggs, crafts, and baked goods at the farmers' markets which are becoming a feature of small town life. Milk prices have been more stable, too, since the remarkable growth of a yogurt company, started in 2005 in a closed Kraft plant, which now makes a new brand of Greek yogurt, Ciobani; the factory buys most of the milk produced in this part of central New York, and it's all hormone-free.
The region seems divided, however, about a much more contentious issue: energy. I already mentioned the windfarms which have gone up in Madison County, but I haven't spoken here about the natural gas wells. During our drive we were astounded at the number of wells in the area. The gas companies enter into long-term leases with the farmers and landowners, many of whom have been so impoverished that they don't want to refuse; we heard of some who later wanted to get out of their contracts, only to find out that this was impossible. The area sits on the Marcellus shale, which is rich in natural gas and desireable for fracking. (As I understand it, the type of well shown above is a straight gas well, not the result of fracking, but perhaps a reader of this post who knows more can explain better.) New York State has put a moratorium on fracking while the longterm effects on groundwater are studied. I can hardly blame local people, who already feel forgotten and hopeless, for signing up for a chance for guaranteed income, but I'm very sad about what may happen in the future.
Meanwhile, the land continues to bowl me over me with its beauty.