July 6, 2011 —
“Sustainability, a love for the land and for each other—that’s what Farmhearts is about,” said Michael Lang at Haystock, a fundraising event held as a benefit for Farmhearts in Callicoon on July 2.
Lang is co-creator of the legendary Woodstock Music and Arts Festival of 1969 and a board member of Farmhearts, a local non-profit organization dedicated to supporting family farms and regional agriculture.
According to Lang, Farmhearts arose in part out of the issue of leasing farmland for gas drilling and fracking. “We were trying to figure out how to avoid it if we could, or at least lower its impact,” said Lang. “The farms are having such trouble up here and we thought there must be another way to keep farmers on their land and make this productive.
“We’re 90 miles from the biggest market in the country. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t become the foodshed, like it is the watershed for New York City. We’re trying to promote that and to help the farmers change direction a bit to address that market.”
A lineup of speakers and musical acts and an excerpt from NACL Theatre’s original piece, “The Little Farm Show” provided structure to an evening that also featured a potluck picnic and food from some of New York City’s top chefs.
Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Organic Farm told the crowd assembled on hay bales and lawn chairs that the next generation of farmers is coming from non-farming backgrounds. “We’re thinking about the growing of food in different ways, prioritizing the way we raise and distribute food with more of a value-based decision-making process and with a hope to have direct linkages with our community. That revolution is something we need to foster here.”
Swartz then asked, “How do we support the existing struggling farmers and the younger beginning farmers who take a leap of faith to get into a hard and very risky business?”
He told those in attendance that supporting the local food and farm economy is vital, but not enough. “When we talk about sustainable economic development, we also need to talk about how we’re going to be involved in how that economic development continues. If we really want to fight the specter of unsustainable possibilities that are looming now, we need to provide alternatives and the single best alternative is going to be sustainable agriculture.
“For every dollar that is generated in sales on a farm, that dollar cycles back through the community up to 2.5 times and adds value to our properties and homes by maintaining the rural character of our communities. We need to create a financing mechanism that we all participate in by investing money into viable long-term sustainable farming that earns a reasonable return while at the same time provides great food and increases our food security.”
Farmhearts board member Jill Weiner noted that the organization sprang from a sincere desire to help. “We’re not experts, but we trying to help by funding scholarships, fellowships and our adopt-a-calf program which connects city kids with one source of their food. We’ve done some advocacy and we’re working to identify other ways to support family farms in the Catskills.”
“We’re trying to make sure our local farmers are the backbone of our communities,” added Lang, “to survive and to thrive and to provide us all with the kind of food we hope to be able to eat into the future as the planet grows.”
Visit www.farmhearts.org  for more information.