by Pamela Boyce Simms
When was the last time you were excited about not knowing what was about to happen, or about
undertaking something you hadn’t even remotely considered tackling? Making peace with uncertainty and unfamiliarity is the need of the hour. The kaleidoscope of shifting economic and climactic patterns may compel us to live very differently, if not now, soon. Confidence in our collective ability to “make it work,” stretch limits, and step out of our comfort zone form the bedrock of the Transition Towns movement.
Transitioners don’t wait for “authorities” to do what friends and neighbors can do themselves. For many however, the idea that “we can do it ourselves” feels like stepping out on a limb. A convenience-driven lifestyle underwritten by cheap oil has become a warm and cozy cocoon of comfort. Yet the cocoon is vaporizing around us. The times in which we live no longer afford us the luxury of long stretches of predictability. Lessons from Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy encourage us to embrace the inevitable unexpected; resolve to be resilient; and own our interdependence with each other as we gaze confidently into the future.
The challenge is to remain grounded as unfamiliar circumstances arise during our emergence from the fossil fuel dependent cocoon. Creating Earth-honoring alternative ways of living, working, and playing; i.e., of swimming upstream together is the Transition Towns adventure.
An increasingly eclectic group of New York State (NYS) farmers have left their comfort zones in the dust to honor their value systems and follow their passion for the land. Pockets of savvy, versatile, and innovative small farming groups with tremendous vision, dot the length and breadth of the NYS landscape, and model Transitioning at its best.
Carol Clement a filmmaker and graphic artist with a background in perceptual psychology convinced herself that she could farm. She stepped out on the proverbial limb to engage a personal passion in service to a community. A veteran of the anti-war, feminist, and civil rights movements, Carol’s passion in the late 70’s was to experience the combined self-reliance and interdependence of an agricultural community. Determined to wrest control of her life back from New York City where she had gone to school, Carol commuted to a rented farm-space in Schoharie County.
Over the course of the next six years she watched two hundred year-old dairy farms started by land grants to Revolutionary War veterans and maintained for centuries by their descendents, go out of business. As the government bought out small forty-cow dairies in New York to facilitate growth of massive Mid-western mega-dairies, the community Carol loved unraveled.
Motivated by this turn of events, Carol began designing projects to help farmers save money, improve their marketing skills and diversify their operations with the establishment of an advertising agency in Windham in 1985. She opened demonstration gardens that grew products in the country that were in demand in the city, and found outlets for their sale.
Carol officially caught the bug. She was hooked on farming while producing a videotape on rotational grazing which demonstrated that the technique didn’t require an enormous capital investment. And, the animals did most of the work! In that moment she knew she would excel at work that was completely out of her realm of direct experience. Propelled by her passion and personifying the Transition notion of non-attachment to outcome or, “letting it go where it wants to go,” she decided to farm purely for farming’s sake.
Carol and her husband John Harrison progressively purchased the neighboring Revolutionary War era Heather Ridge Farm with the assistance of the original owners’ children, who were thrilled that the sale meant keeping the land out of the hands of a developer. Knowing from the outset that the success of Heather Ridge was intertwined with that of the community, Carol worked systematically for years with a small group of farmers who called themselves MADE in Schoharie.
The group revolutionized the local farming infrastructure. Holistic farm management methods guided the group’s research, identification of farm needs, and brainstorming sessions on innovative marketing. They networked as they farmed, and educated the public through workshops and conferences.
MADE in Schoharie successfully amended NYS governmental regulations when they demonstrated the need for what would become the first mobile meat-processing unit in the state, Cowboys Custom Cutting. They then helped the owner Eric Shelley apply to Schoharie County for grants and low interest loans to get the unit started.
Among the farm group’s most impactful milestones is the establishment of an internship program with an ever-expanding ripple effect. Four farms offer dedicated, interns top quality classes and total immersion in all facets of farm operations. They send highly qualified young pioneers out into farm communities who, like themselves, will “make it work” in service to the whole.
In addition to operating the charming Bees Knees Café on site, Heather Ridge farm offers an array of grassfed-meat cuts, specialty meats, honey soap, candles, and products from other area farms.
Today’s Transitioningfarm entrepreneurs are producers, educators, marketing wizards, innovators and leaders who seed the future. In a transitioned world, constant change, enthusiastic acceptance of uncertainty, and working with whatever emerges becomes the new comfort zone.
“It is my business to manage carefully and dexterously, whatever happens” ~ Epictetus
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Certified Transition Trainer,
Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US
Transitionmidatlantic.org ~ TransitionUS.org