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January 30, 2012

In These Otsego Hills: ‘Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.’ − John Adams

Last week we were asked if we would be interested in previewing a documentary, “The Empire State Divide,”produced by the Foundation for Land & Liberty. And we were more than happy to do so as we understood the documentary dealt with the problems that continue to face family farms.

And although we did not grow up on a farm, our father did and we have always thought his approach to life, which he passed on to us, was solidly based in his farm upbringing. And thus we readily admit we are always concerned, as he was, with the many problems farmers face.

And while we found the documentary to be most interesting, in that it presents a different view of issues facing our area, we suspect there will be those who will be more than happy to dismiss the documentary out of hand. And that would be unfortunate as it seems it has much to offer to those who truly wish to understand what is facing family farms today.

Obviously, our area has already lost a tremendous number of family farms. Over the 30 years that we have lived here, we have watched the number of farms dwindle. As the cost of living continues to rise, the pressure on farms to survive increases.

In addition, as the area becomes a retirement destination, the problem is exasperated as there is now a segment of the population that does not have to earn a living here as they did that elsewhere.

Therefore, it often seems that those people fail to appreciate the fact that there are people, many of whom have been here for generations, who do need to be able to make a living here. Thus, as was pointed out in the documentary, it would indeed seem that modern society cannot survive without industry. And we suspect that our area can’t either.

In fact, if we look at the early history of area, as recorded by Judge William Cooper in “A Guide to the Wilderness; or the History of the First Settlements in the Western Counties of New York” (1810, reprinted 1949), we discover he noted: “...I established potash works among the settlers and made them debtor for their bread and laboring utensils.

I also gave them credit for their maple sugar and potash, at a price that would bear transportation, and the first year after the adoption of this plan I collected in one mass forty-three hogsheads of sugar and three hundred barrels of pot- and pearlash, worth about nine thousand dollars. This kept the people together and at home, and the country soon assumed a new face.”

Likewise, the early settlers in Delaware County sustained themselves by using the resources of the area to make goods that were sold to larger urban areas. According to the book, “Lost Villages” by Mary Robinson Sive, “Delaware County was never exclusively pastoral and agricultural after Europeans came here and made use of its abundant water power.” Early industry included grist mills, sawmills, smithies, foundries and tanneries as well as the wood-chemical industry. It is noted that “Chemicals such as methonal, methyl acetate and wood alchohol...acetic acid, acetone, formaldehydle,  and acetate of lime...were allmade by distilling of wood with charcoal a by-product.” Thus it seems clear that early on the area realized the necessity of industry.

And that is a necessity that would seem to still be in place today for a number of area residents including, but not limited to, farmers. And we think “The Empire State Divide” does a good job of making this point. It clearly shows how the economy of the area is affecting the lives of those living here. A number of family farms are lost because the younger generations of the family see no future in farming and turn to other careers, usually out of the area. In fact the point was made in the documentary that many high school graduates in the area leave New York state after high school as there is no way they can stay as there is no industry, and thus no jobs, to support them.

The documentary also points out that the current debate about natural gas production has divided the area into those who are adamantly opposed to drilling and those who feel they need to be able to responsibly supplement their income and thus be able to continue to live on the land that they dearly love. We have no idea what the eventual outcome of the debate will be. But we do think it would be helpful if all involved would take the time to research and understand the differing points of view.

Doing so, we hope, might well result in a better understanding of who our neighbors are. Perhaps the sense of hopelessness that has settled on some residents could be lifted. Maybe those who feel obligated to label those in favor of natural gas as being Beverly Hillbillies could rethink their name calling.

Maybe people could realize that the area needs not only white-collar jobs, but also blue-collar jobs. Mayhap Cooperstown could lose its designation of being an “affluent bubble.” Possibly the area’s young people might be able to support themselves here, instead of having to move elsewhere. It might even prove to be the case, that there would be a mutual understanding that those of us who are invested in this area need to work together so that we can all stay where we very much want to be.

And if not now, when? We note that the documentary, “The Empire State Divide,” aired earlier this week on the CBS television station in Binghamton. We understand it will be able for viewing at

Plus, there are a limited number of DVDs of the documentary being made available for anyone who does not have online access but would still like to see the documentary. Please let us know if you would like to borrow a copy. We think it presents some interesting as well as valuable food for thought.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 607-547-8124 or by e-mail at

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