Family farm for sale after almost 400 years of operation

One of the oldest things in Milwaukee is the giant European copper beech tree in South Shore Park, which was planted in the 1850s. It’s pretty old for something in America that was planted or raised post-colonization.

Over on the East Coast, it’s not too hard to find things that are even older. The Tuttle farm in New Hampshire has been farmed since 1632, which probably makes it a candidate for “oldest thing continually in use.” That’s 378 years of farming on one spot, with eleven generations of the family working the land.

However, in 2010, as suburban sprawl encroached and the intimate demands of the marketplace made it harder and harder to operate a farm, the Tuttles have placed the farm up for sale. According to the Boston Globe, the 134-acre property is listed for $3.35 million. However, the paper also reports that despite being “surrounded by suburban homes and is bordered by a major street, [the farm] is protected by a conservation restriction that prohibits it from being developed after it is sold, and the Tuttles hold out hope that the new owners will maintain it as a working farm.”

While a part of me would like a farm, in the abstract, mind you, I don’t have that kind of cash on hand. But I hope that it can be made into another good farm rather than it becoming Yet Another Subdivision. God knows we’ve got quite enough of those.

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Gleaning

Just heard of this. “Gleaning” is apparently the process of harvesting food crops from farm fields that would be otherwise left to waste in the field. Wikipedia has a good description of gleaning:

“Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system. For example, ancient Jewish communities required that farmers not reap all the way to the edges of a field so as to leave some for the poor and for strangers. (Lev. 19:9–10., Lev. 23:22, Deut. 14:28-29, Peah).”

Woah, sorry it got all religious on you. But perhaps there is something to this. I’ve felt a strong spiritual element to my gardening this past season. Spiritual, not religious. But anyway. I just heard this term “gleaning” tonight on the radio — not Sykes or Belling, but one of those damn hippies that they give free reign over on our local communist radio station, WUWM. (The commie-hippies on the air during “Car Talk” and “Marketplace” are especially insufferable.)

The proletariat brainwashing must have worked, as I’m now intrigued with the apparent success of Salvation Farms in Vermont. Their website claims that in 2007, they gleaned a total of “53,563 pounds of fresh local produce, 148 loaves of bread, 72 cut flowers, 58 potted perennials, 520 packets of seeds, 200 vegetable starts, and 1 CSA share box!”

That’s a lot of food.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t worry much about having food. (I’m looking at you, Greg. It was good to see you today, by the way.) But there are many, many people in Milwaukee that do. Even people that I know have had this concern. And what do you do when there’s no food, and no money to get it? While I don’t stay up late pondering this, it is a problem that will get worse as the price of food and gasoline continues to rise. Perhaps this “gleaning” is a way to deal with it.

HOWTO Save Farms and Wetlands?

hearts and minds has an interesting post about ways to save WIsconsin’s farms and wetlands, two of the most valuable and most threatened parts of our state. Clyde, the author, bills himself “an Army Airborne veteran, college grad, mechanic, seaman, hunter, and outdoor adventurer.” It’s good to have perspectives from someone who’s done thing I’ve rarely or never done, such as graduating from college (yet).

A blog that takes a hard look at suburban sprawl

Sprawled Out: The Search for Community in the American Suburb is a tool through which author John Michlig examines the post-World War II phenomenon of suburban sprawl. Looking more closely, John is writing the blog as he writes a book, which uses his city of Franklin, Wisconsin as the basis for examining sprawl around the country.

This topic is close to my heart. Just last Friday, I was down in Prairie Crossing, a relatively new exurban development Grayslake, Illinois. I’d heard of Prairie Crossing only as having a farm in it, though by its proximity to Chicago I correctly believed that the area around it was most likely anything but farmland. Sure enough, subdivisions with huge houses dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see.

But upon driving through Prairie Crossing, one thing that immediately set it apart from literally every one of the subdivisions I have seen before was that rather than having stereotypical manicured suburban lawns, many of its lawns appeared to be covered with tall grasses and native plants. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance in prairie grasses swaying against the 3,000 square foot homes.

Prairie Crossing bills itself as a a “conservation community.” To that end, the development’s web site describes it as combining “responsible development, the preservation of open land and easy commuting by rail.” Not bad; your kids can attend a charter school near your super-modern home that was “built to the highest standards of energy efficiency,” while still being well away from unwanted ruffians and sexual predators that lurk on every street corner and back alley. Best of all, you can drive your Chevy Suburban or sterling Escalade to your job in the city while still feeling good about saving the environment.

To their credit, Prairie Crossing does have a large organic farm amidst its houses. Attending a class there on the farm last Friday, I got to be a fly on the wall, eying damage from a recent wind storm and admiring the rows of green crops. But one thing that me a little uneasy, even angry, was seeing the lush farm fields already sprouting crops, and the line of McMansions on the horizon.

A lovely farm field in northern Illinois, with subdivisions encroaching on all sides.

A Prairie Crossing farm field, with comfortable houses in the background.

To be fully honest, I saw the other side of this view some twenty years ago, when my mother had a very large house built in Dane County. It was former farmland that overlooked several acres farmland that were still in use. But visiting the same area last year, I was horrified to see that all of the land had been consumed by perfect lawns and ostentatious houses. A few years before that, the farmland around where my buddy Kent had been raised was turned into matching fields of sprawl.

I bet you dollars to doughnuts that neither Franklin, nor Middleton, is doing much anything to preserve land or ensure a steady food supply. And I wonder, how much is the rapid consumption of farmland for construction of huge single-family houses contributing to the problem of rising food costs? Say what you will, there is a connection.