26 Apr 2004 simonstl   » (Master)

Land of Abandoned Dreams - Dan York asks "What made people abandon their dreams?" and their farms in upstate NY.

I'm not sure that people precisely abandoned their dreams here - some moved on to follow those dreams someplace else, and in other cases dreams weren't shared across generations. Upstate New York's farms have been emptying out since about 1820, when there were massive migrations to the west. Better land called, and New York's own massive internal improvement, the Erie Canal, reduced the cost of getting goods from those farms to markets in the east.

There are still farms up there, as there are all over the state, but it's not easy to keep them going. Even here in central New York (where the weather and land are slightly more encouraging), figuring out ways to keep farming an active local business is difficult.

There are some bright spots, though. Organic farming has very different economics and is generally less conducive to enormous scale than industrial farming. (Much New York terrain tends to encourage smaller-scale farms.) The higher prices for organic food offer better prospects for some farmers. I also feel like there's more active farming north of the border, though that's just based on what little I've seen from my car. There's no simple answer to it.

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