The Grand Tour: A Post-Peak Travelogue

Sharon August 24th, 2008

If you read various oil blogs, you can’t turn around this summer without kicking over someone’s observations on what places are like in the era of high energy prices and teetering recession, usually beginning with a list of exactly how many RVs they’ve seen on the road.  And who am I to buck the trend?  I admit, it feels a little lame, given that once my grand tours covered multiple European nations or large chunks of say,  Indonesia, rather than some of the central parts of New York State, but hey, a gal with four kids has to take what she can get. 

Ok - RV count…0.  This is perhaps not as remarkable as you’d think since other than a stretch between Monticello and Binghamton, we stayed off the Interstates entirely, but we didn’t see a one, except those stationary and for sale.  Also not seen - cars hauling motor boats and jet skis.  Frankly, these were absences I could live with, but it did seem to be part of a trend.  So were the for-sale signs everywhere, especially on obvious second homes.  People are trying to unload economic burdens - and it may be too late to get rid of them, given the sheer number.

Perhaps the most startling moment actually occurred before we left - riding with my Mother on our way back from the local farmstand we took a slightly different route, only to discover that a long stretch of pot-holed back road near us was having its asphalt ripped up and replaced by…gravel.  That is, my local town has now officially joined rural areas around the country in giving up paved roads in areas where it is simply too expensive to maintain them.  Gravel is much less expensive.  I’d heard reports of this from other people, and in fact, we’ve seen it on our own road, where potholed areas were dug up and replaced by gravel - but this is the first time I’ve seen someone getting rid of all the paving entirely.  We saw several other examples of this, and heard about more as we travelled around, talking to people.

I once read a report from South Africa that pointed out that pot-holes can be seen as a measure of the level of crisis, and if this is the case, our trip through rural areas of New York state shows a region experiencing a great deal of economic turmoil (duh!) - the roads were, well, bad.  Eric got to see this in great detail - the most direct way to my guest lecture at the Catskill Permaculture course was a beautiful rural route through the back of a couple of neighboring counties, and let’s just say that by the time that we were ready to go, Eric (ok, me too) was really, really ready.  So when I told him to go get the bags and put them in the car, Eric got all the bags he could find - including my mother’s suitcase, containing her clothes and needed medication.  We didn’t discover this until nearly 10pm that evening, so Eric got to see the road conditions - and the lovely views several times, as he rose at 6 am on our first day to drive back home, return the suitcase, and then come join me.  It added an element of comedy to the whole thing.

Amazingly, and despite the fact that we researched the area when we were planning on moving to New York, I had never been to the Borscht-belt parts of the Catskills before.  I suppose I’ve long since missed their heyday, but still, there’s a firmly 1950s feel to the whole thing, right down to advertising pornography with the word “exotic” - when was the last time you saw a sign that had that word on it?  The road where the Ashram that the permaculture class took place on had a Chasidic summer colony, a now-defunct Pentacostal summer camp and an Ashram on it.  ‘Tis an interesting area, and I wish I’d seen more of it.  The places we did visit outside the Ashram mentioned that it was a slow year for visitors, but to my untrained eye, things were pretty active, potholes mostly under control on the main road, and touristi abounded (not, of course, excluding us).

We had a great time at permaculture summer camp, got to hang out with assorted students, guest lecturers and the remarkable Larry Santoyo and Toby Hemenway, and then hit the road again, this time bound for the Fingerlakes. Before we departed we attempted to get a sense of local food systems, but everyone we asked looked at us rather blankly.   There are obviously farms in the Catskills, but we struggled to find local agriculture, and we’d have thought that an area that full of tourists looking to rusticate would be flowing with agritourism - pick your owns, and such.  But everyone we asked about this looked as us rather blankly.  But the trouble may have been the areas we were in, or our own failures.  I’d love to hear about the vibrant local food culture of an area that obviously draws a lot of New Yorkers.

Now there are several ways to approach this kind of travelogue - we stayed, except for the aforementioned diversion up route 17 - off the highways, driving through countryside and suburb, and trying, as much as one can from a car and occasional stops to wander about, to get a sense of how places are faring or will fare in the coming years.   You can go Kunstlerian, and be mired in the bleakness of it all, or optimistic, seeing with sensitized eyes just how much land there is untouched, just how much potential. 

Generally speaking, I tend towards the optimistic approach, except when I’m near Binghamton.  I probably have some readers there, and I regret deeply any offense I cause when I admit, the only word I’ve ever been able to come up with the for the visual perception of how Binghamton looks, no matter how you approach it, is “Stalinist” - and not in a good way.  I’m sure that if a competition for most “Soviet-industrial looking city in the US” were held, Binghamton wouldn’t be more than a runner-up, but just the sight of Binghamton in the landscape makes me start channelling Kunstler, and his assertion that we must start making better places or we’re all doomed. I’ve no doubt that Binghamton has its redeeming qualities, but we couldn’t bear to be there long enough to discover them - and I’ve never been able to spot them during previous visits.  The one time I was ever in Binghamton for a farmer’s market, for example, several years ago, it was a sad little thing, dwarfed by the farmer’s market in (much smaller and similar in some ways) Cortland.

It is, however, completely unfair to compare comparatively affluent, green, eco-village filled,  two-University Ithaca with poor, one-State University, Industrial Binghamton.  The fact that one would prefer the former to the latter is one of those obvious things - the game was rigged to begin with.  Still, it was fascinating to see (I’ve been to Ithaca and Binghamton both a bunch of time before, but mostly in connection with my old academic career, not my new one) the degree to which the magic of Cornell’s far reaching and creative agricultural program has created an agricultural area that has a truly unified feel.   That is, it isn’t hard to imagine that Ithaca and the surrounding regions will be unified in large part under the aegis of Cornell Cooperative extension.  Talking to local farmers and residents, we got the impression that this is one area set to pull together.

We did a little ag-tourism ourselves, checking out local cheesemakers, eating some truly great goat cheese and quite nice Kefir cheese, making an obligatory stop at a couple of wineries (Far be it for me to discourage local agricultural projects, but the thought of a future where fingerlakes wines are the only ones available to me is not heartening - most of it was dreadful stuff by my standards, and even Eric, who likes sweet white wines and has a childhood nostalgia for Manischewitz found it uninspiring.)  But what we were impressed by was the sheer quantity of roadside stands, suburban gardens and local farm producers.  Of course, it was driven by a tourist economy - but it isn’t clear to me whether at least in the short term the tourist economy for the Fingerlakes or the Catskills is likely to disappear or expand.  Certainly in a gradual, growing crisis, for a while, those who stay home entirely will be replaced by those who would have drunk wine in France, but now need something cheaper.  And the influx of foreign visitors was truly remarkable - and commented upon everywhere we went.  The rest of the world may be on the verge of economic crisis, but those affluent enough are certainly taking advantage of the falling dollar.

We spent one night eating Cuban food (best I’ve had in a long time) at a local farmer’s market and attending a local draft-horse pull.  I love draft horses, and I love to watch  horse pulls.  It is, in most places, an man’s sport, complete with places on the side for the wives to watch the men - most of them older men - at their work.  I can’t quite parse why I love this sport - there’s the beauty of the animals, of course, and the courage and enthusiasm with which they take on such an enormous burden, and the symmetry with which these men work their animals.  There’s the risks they take - one family at the horse pull I watched was made up of an 81 year old father, his 50 something son, and a grandson who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s.  At the moment the horses are hitched to the weight there’s a great deal of risk for the man driving, in this case the elderly grandfather - if the horses pull away at the last moment, preventing the hitch, they can easily drag the driver. 

It all happens in a second - the hitch is made or not made, one person connects the points, and the man holding back the force of two 2000+ lb draft horses transfers over the reins to the driver. Towards the end, the horses missed the hitch, and watching grandson and father leap together in absolute unison to reclaim the reins to prevent the grandfather from being pulled from his perch - and succeed in a tiny fraction of a second - was both a remarkable feat of athleticism and grace and strangely moving.  Some poet once asked where all the strong men, the giants of his childhood, the men with biceps of iron and raw courage have gone - well, they (and perhaps the strong women of courage as well, although I never see any) are out at the draft horse pulls, testing the strength of human and horse, simply to be able to say they can.  Talking to a few of them afterwards, nearly all told the same story - men in their forties and fifties and up, most of them don’t farm primarly with the horses themselves, but their fathers and grandfathers did, and they grew up around the horses, and loved them, and were unwilling to fully give up the symbiosis between human and horse.

The horse pull was part of an agricultural fair - and we had only recently attended our own agricultural fair.  But this is one place where the local agricultural tradition seems far more straitened than in my region - while the local County fairs in our region - Cobleskill and Altamont - struggle with the competition of the midway and with declining participation in some of the traditional agricultural areas, the Trumansburg Fair was a true shell of its agricultural self - a half dozen cows, one goat, a few crocheted articles and a few dozen baked goods and jams and jellies.  Almost half the domestic art building was taken up with an exhibit on the fair past - because there was almost no present. 

In one sense, the idea of the agricultural fair is archaic - just like the horse pull, the remnent of something older.  After all, who needs to bring their pickles, their lamb, their ear of corn to the fair to get a small prize?  What’s the point?

Well, the point is that agriculture doesn’t happen in isolation.  It is easy to think it does - easy to live in a kind of isolation when you are caught up with your land and garden and place.  It is easy to work every day on the farm, and to never stop long enough to be part of the context you really live in, to never take a break and celebrate.

And perhaps in a world where we disdain the homey virtues of canning and growing and tending, where vacation time is written into your contract and where the biggest pumpkin is just one more big thing in a world of big things, they don’t matter.  But the agricultural fairs may come to matter again, and maybe not so far away.  You see, in a world where most of the work gets done and has to be done again the next day or week or year - you wash the dishes, the next meal comes and you need to wash them again, you fill the pantry or grow the garden and the next year it all gets done over again - those moments when you can look at what you’ve done and see an achievment matter.  In a world where harvest is a time for celebration, the fruits of that harvest are worth celebrating.  It may be a small thing in some senses to get a red ribbon for your jam, or to take a prize heifer to the fair - but it is also a very large thing, the moment in which the ordinary work of feeding yourself and your community gets placed in context, in which your neighbors compare their pickles to yours, and perhaps turn and ask for the recipe, the seed stock, the stud - the time at which you get both rewarded for what you do and a chance to strengthen the whole of the communal enterprize of agriculture.  

After our brief shift back to the 19th century, we then were back in Ithaca for garden tours and to check out local trial orchards. A surprisingly large number of our fellow tourists were involved with food themselves, and a surprisingly large number were on working vacations hunting up local food supplies for New York City or Philadelphia or Montreal, responding to a rapidly growing demand that they can’t keep up with (unfortunately mostly among consumers with lots of disposable income, but still).  Several times during conversations about local food systems, I mentioned a producer near me, only to learn that the buyer had never of them, and hadn’t been looking up in our region.  At the farmer’s market in Trumansberg, the New York State Cheesemaker’s guild rep had out a map of all participating cheesemakers in the region - and I discovered two within a reasonable range of me that I’d never known about.  Not one of the farms or local extension services seemed to have this map available - it became obvious that my area needs to do a better job of agricultural marketing.  And since we have the river to enable shipping even in a low energy world, building up stronger market ties (and there are many, just many more to be made) especially to New York

We took the old route 20 home - this was once the way to cross New York State before the advent of the highways.  The building of Route 88 pretty much killed Route 20’s business economy - we live at one end of 20, and have seen the final fall of old businesses that depended on motorists driving this route.  It is a gorgeous trip, though, across the state, and meanders through a mix of farmland and some fascinating small towns.  Only one of them, the oddly placed  (and as far as I can tell, completely inexplicable (in the sense that I honestly can’t figure out why people would go there - its main feature seems to be a smallish number of expensive shops) Cazenovia, showed much in the way of signs of life.  Though we passed hundreds of farms, almost none took any advantage at all of the passing cars to sell anything directly off the farm. 

What we did find at every stop was a lot of discussion of the coming winter, the town plowing budget, and the price of gas.  We saw going-out-of-business sales everywhere, especially in small rural towns.  At the coffee shops and diners we stopped at, older people just sighed and looked worried - and younger people talked about leaving.  Everyone worried about the jobs, often in small economies and places where jobs are hard to find to begin with.  There were struggles between town and county over whose responsibility something increasingly expensive was.  One town just outside the fingerlakes mentioned that they thought that the town sherriff’s office would be closed al together.  All along the way we tried to talk to people about their place, about their future, and all along the way, we found people worried, sometimes angry, but mostly resigned to a change.

Lots of people mentioned all the gardens they were seeing, and that they were growing more themselves.  It has been a wet year here in upstate New York, and the tomatoes and other heat lovers are late, and sometimes diseased.  Everyone complained about the tomatoes - but complaining about your garden is a time-honored tradition.  But this year, two different people, both old timers and first-time gardeners expressed to me, without any prompting on my part, their worry that a bad garden year could leave them without enough to eat.  Everyone mentioned the oversubscription of the church food pantries.  Everyone said they didn’t know what they’d do next - but mostly with a resignation that there would be a next.

Overall, I came back from my trip hopeful - New York is rich in green space and arable land that we are not using, in wisdom and history and talent we don’t take advantage of. We have ties enough to old ways and new ways, and resources that could rise up to fill gaps.  I talked to person after person who mentioned that their Mom used to grow all her own food, or that Dad farmed with oxen and still knows how to train them.  Travelling through the countryside and small cities, it felt as though the rural parts of my state are not so very far removed from the life we’ll be leading, and that there’s courage and endurance not far beneath the surface of things - that we aren’t the soft and selfish people that we are often portrayed as.  Or maybe we are - in part because it is so easy to be that person.  But I worry for everyone I talked to, in city and countryside as well - with a few exceptions, there’s not much being done to help people transition, and I fear those few resources will be overwhelmed.

We used two tanks of gas on this trip - enough to probably mean I won’t quite make my 90% reduction goals this year either.  I don’t justify it, exactly, but I suspect it may be Eric and my last road trip together, at least for a long time.  And I’m glad I got to see a little more of the way things are moving, before I stop moving.

Sharon

25 Responses to “The Grand Tour: A Post-Peak Travelogue”

  1. Susan in NJon 24 Aug 2008 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for the travelogue.
    I was asking this weekdend at the market here in south Jersey whether garlic was local and the farmer was telling me it wasn’t but he was planning to research growing garlic next year, since it used to be grown around here. He then launched into a spiel about how much the farming scene had changed now that Birdseye, Campbells and others no longer can around here and what a shame it was that all that vegie farming had been lost. Now almost no one down here grows carrots, and there used to be huge fields. Similarly where I come from in Illinois, Green Giant peas and sweet corn, and furthe south Libby’s tomatoes, really affected the crops grown. Now it’s all gone to houses, golf courses, field corn and soy.
    It’s interesting to me how much industrial food actually supported local food availability.
    Around here, there’s lots of boats for sale in people’s yards, and while the August street traffic has been less, it has been busier than any of the ten previous Augusts I have lived here — in other words, people aren’t living “down the Shore” all summer.

  2. Hummingbirdon 24 Aug 2008 at 11:07 am

    Wonderful travelogue, Sharon. Makes up for not having any to read all week.

    Interesting to read of the abandonment of asphalt roads for gravel. My rural county just recently (last 5 years, after casino money started arriving) paved a lot of its gravel roads. They are already having trouble maintaining them.

    I grew up in western New York, and was fascinated to read of the store of knowledge still remaining in these hardy people. Gives one some hope.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lisa Zon 24 Aug 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for that. I love reading about places, and with your local food perspective and search it makes it even more interesting to me. I would love to see that as a magazine or newspaper article somewhere. You could polish it up a bit, change enough to make a publisher think they’re getting “first dibs” (as opposed to your blog) and submit it.

    Your last paragraph, about this being possibly your last road trip with Eric, brought tears to my eyes. We are staying home so much more now, too, largely because of the Riot but also b/c of the high prices. But still, one of my favorite things is taking road trips around my state.

    I think that these years of heavy travel–whether local, national or international–have opened up the world for so many of us. Of course there’s lots of bad with that (global econ, etc.), but you can’t throw the whole baby out with the bathwater. We all know so much more about other cultures and peoples now. That has to be good for world understanding and peace (oh please, let it be).

    Lisa in MN

  4. Marnieon 24 Aug 2008 at 12:37 pm

    In my home area of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, the only peach/pear processing plant (Can-Gro it was called - i think it was DelMonte) closed down, and the grape juice processing plant too. These were the only two plants to take in the abundance of tender fruit within Niagara’s region, and there was an uproar among the farmers (I come from a farming family). But their first response, although I feel empathy and understand that maybe it was necessary, was disheartening: government support. Something more creative would have been wonderful to see.

    I can’t wrap my head around how farmers who make the choice to invest their livlihoods in a large, foreign owned corporation, when that corporation pulls out of town, look around in desperation and do not see that their predicatment was their choice. And regretably, their choice fell through. We have barely any local processing, barely even a local food market, even though this area used to have those necessary places in abundance. Farming in this region is a scared cow, and we are never to raise a critical voice to farmers’ practices because very often the underlying message is that “farming is a hard life (true) = farmers do not have a choice (?)”. Now farmers are ripping out productive trees. Caught in the industrial food cucle, it’s the old story, I suppose.

    However, the heartening thing is that now, bubbling below the loud angry voices, there is quiet, important work being done: a culinary trail (albeit geared towards tourism, who says locals can’t use it :-), a couple of new farmers’ markets, and an increasing awareness that maybe we need to look at supporting ourselves. My Mom even said to me the other day: “Did you know the lady down the road is selling her chickens’ eggs?!”

    Little steps on a big journey….

  5. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » The Grand Tour: A Post-Peak Travelogue Ok - RV count…0. This is perhaps not as remarkable as you’d think since other than a stretch between Monticello and Binghamton, we stayed off the Interstates entirely, but we didn’t see a one, except those stationary and for sale. Also not seen - cars hauling motor boats and jet skis. Frankly, these were absences I could live with, but it did seem to be part of a trend. So were the for-sale signs everywhere, especially on obvious second homes. People are trying to unload economic burdens - and it may be too late to get rid of them, given the sheer number. […]

  6. Michelleon 24 Aug 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Sharon,

    Thanks for this and all of your posts. You’ve furthered my thinking about a great many topics, and gotten me thinking about new ideas as well. I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and wanting to be self-sufficient, and now as a single Mom of four cum grad student in my early 40s, I’m really trying to do that. I’m raising rabbits for meat (the doe is due any day now with her first litter!) in addition to my large garden. I haven’t bought canned beans or tomato sauce or applesauce in at least five years, and my gift-giving has become largely a jar of homemade jam and a loaf of homemade bread - and folks really REALLY love receiving that!

    Now, on to your post:

    “Well, the point is that agriculture doesn’t happen in isolation. It is easy to think it does - easy to live in a kind of isolation when you are caught up with your land and garden and place. It is easy to work every day on the farm, and to never stop long enough to be part of the context you really live in, to never take a break and celebrate.”

    I initially looked at this from the other perspective - the fairgoers who think that food comes wrapped in plastic in a big grocery store. I think there’s incredible value in folks seeing that, in fact, people CAN still grow their own food, and that it’s fun, and interesting to do so. Folks might come to the fair for the midway, but if even just a few of them wander through the exhibit halls, they’ll have at least some subliminal concept that real live people can still do things, not just invisible corporations somewhere. People can still grow food, raise animals, knit sweaters, quilt bedcoverings.

    Anyhoo, welcome home, and thanks for many, many good and interesting reads!

  7. RCon 24 Aug 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I am having one of those heavy duty saudade flashbacks now. In 1977-8-9 before moving way down South, we traveled around all the little towns in eastern Upstate New York while caretaking {no rent, pay the heat and power} farmhouses and most of the time we liked traveling without a car even though we had one.
    We kept our place in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan,, because I had to go there occasionally and find some work because there wasn’t much Upstate.
    We put the infant {in 1979} in the old time 4 wheel stroller, the type I remember from childhood in Park Slope, the 4 year old would also get in there when she got tired of walking, and we proceeded to wander around all the back roads from Ancram to Marysville to Roxbury to South Fallsberg, amongst all the farms and broken down towns and cemeteries and Kosher resorts and churches and barns and yes, temples and ashrams.
    People would stop with their pickups and make us get a ride to the next town. We did this in the warm months.
    The best and cheapest eating was always at the town church suppers. All excellent home cooking, farm ingredients, tons of food {we were treated as exotic–that word again!– wherever we went because we were wandering around on foot — horrors!} and very very nice people. Now this was thirty years ago, but can church suppers change that much? I’m not sure how Kosher you are, but give them a try sometime. We eventually realized that there are only at best 12 or 14 weeks of frost free growing season in the mountain areas Upstate so eventually I re-sided a whole dairy barn in Roxbury, got paid, bought one-way plane tickets, all new power tools, luggage and taxi fare and we got on that big bird and moved to a place with a 365 day a year growing season. I didn’t like the cold, the dark, the cabin fever and at that time, the extreme poverty that we encountered all over Upstate due to no jobs. Most of the people were on welfare there.
    It is a very beautiful place and we did enjoy traveling there in summer, but we could not adapt to winter living with no plant activity. It just was not for us. I’ve lived in the tropics since October of 1979, but I really loved the New York State summers of the years of wandering. Thank you so much for the free ticket on the time machine.

  8. Anonymouson 24 Aug 2008 at 6:12 pm

    The end of your article made me sad too, though it’s not the first time I’ve had that thought. I wonder, sometimes, how we’ll get by as travel gets more and more expensive. One set of our parents is a 1/2 tank’s drive away, but what worries me is the other set on the other side of an ocean.

    It saddens and worries me to think that our years of being able to visit once a year are limited and that our knowledge (now) that we could afford tickets (albeit costly ones) if an emergency came up may not be there to comfort us in the future.

    When I met my spouse and we settled far from them, I had never heard of Peak Oil and those types of thoughts never crossed my mind. I assumed air travel for the middle classes (and the middle classes themselves) would always be a given.

  9. Adam Ekon 24 Aug 2008 at 6:19 pm

    As far as paving vs gravel roads goes, there are another couple of aspects.

    First, asphalt is now one of the most recycled industrial products there is (right behind steel). Whenever they’re tearing up old pavement they’re taking it off to remelt and remix as paving somewhere else or harvesting the tar for some other purpose. A lot of old paving has as much or more hydrocarbons as the Athabasca tar sands.

    Secondly, gravel roads often result in reduced speeds and better gas mileage. Not always, a washboard gravel road loses a lot of efficiency, but a smooth gravel road is pretty good.

  10. Theresaon 24 Aug 2008 at 7:47 pm

    I’m glad you came back from your trip hopeful Sharon. It helps me to be hopeful too. Thanks for the reminder about river transportation. We’re not too far from a river that used to be a trade route, which makes me think I could still visit my parents who live in one of the towns that sprung from one of the old trading post forts.

  11. Brad K.on 24 Aug 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I found your comment interesting, about the agrifairs”After all, who needs to bring their pickles, their lamb, their ear of corn to the fair to get a small prize? What’s the point?”

    As I understand it the USDA initiated the county fairs as a nationwide event for a reason. They wanted to establish the farming methods that work well (the ribbon winners) in each region, and to disperse that knowledge of successful techniques to others in the region. The intended benefit was to be increased agricultural productivity.

    I think that intent still pays off where lots of the locals get involved with the fair. But equipment manufacturers have done their best to market their tractors and gear, chemical and seed companies to market their wares - skewing agriculture toward whatever they big guys are marketing this year.

    According to the Draft Horse Primer, in the 1920’s and later, the USDA and tractor makers combined forces to encourage replacing horses on the farm - not always with the truth about economies, and never with a care for the farm, or the farming family.

    If you come across a book ‘Four of a Kind’, or your library can get it, you may enjoy this novel of a boy and his grandfather, and a team of draft horses.

    Many states have a local Draft Horse and Mule association, of people that breed, work, train, or enjoy draft horses and mules. The Small Farmer’s Journal in Sisters, OR, republishes some equipment manuals that people are using with horses today. They also discuss oxen training and off-the-grid living. The Rural Heritage Magazine (ruralheritage.com) covers draft horses and rural living from Jackson County, TN. The Draft Horse Journal is the acknowledged main journal of the draft horse industry. The DHJ covers the state fares, various premier breeding line histories among the various breeds (Shires are the larger breed, the Clydesdales the most recognized, the Belgian Draft the most common in America, the French-origin Percheron, and the featherless Suffolk Punch are the five more common draft breeds in the US. Feathers are the fluffy hair about the foot, on the backs of the legs below the knees.)

    Of the post-apocalypse stories I find the most likely, I think the notion that there will be a need for people traveling between communities, possibly in gypsy-like caravan wagons, possibly Connestoga-like covered wagons. The ability to export hard goods, preserves, exchange mail, news, information, and seeds will get even more valuable once general transportation stops. For those that haven’t handled horses, don’t think your ancestors with slight education didn’t know anything - handling horses and keeping them sound takes a lifetime of learning. Anyone can learn to work or ride a well-broke horse in a few weeks. Keeping them well trained, and working with horses (or oxen!) with ‘quirks’ may not leave the novice much room for error. If you plan to work livestock, allow plenty of time to learn what you are doing. ‘course, that is true for anything to do with the soil and the rest of God’s creation.

  12. Dianeon 24 Aug 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I just took a weekend down to central Georgia from east Tennessee. Traffic was remarkably light compared to my previous trips. I saw very few RVs, maybe a dozen or less. I also saw remarkably fewer tractor-trailers this trip as well. I really didn’t even realize that till I read your article and thought back on my own driving this weekend.
    I’ll add my voice to the others here, and say how glad I am to have you back!

  13. Stephen B.on 24 Aug 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Interesting comments on the local fairs Sharon as it got me to thinking about my visit last fall to the Topsfield (MA) Fair not far from where you have relatives in Beverly I believe. (Topsfield runs the first week of Oct.)

    I have to report that the various agricultural halls, livestock, veggies, as well as the homecrafts exhibits seemed as packed as ever, and those buildings there are fairly huge too. There didn’t seem to be an abundance of exhibitors in the dairy cows, but most other catagories seemed well-represented. Frankly, the fair grounds was packed, and it wasn’t all midway action either. Then again, I brought three teenagers from my residential treatment school and they ate up about $50 in midway tickets in only 45 minutes, so that might have something to do with why the traditional (read OLD) parts of the fair were doing so well. The latter simply don’t cost an arm and a leg. I did think fairgrounds admission was fairly (no pun intended) steep itself, however.

    Topsfield, run for years by the Essex Agricultural Society, for those that don’t know, is a large fair north of Boston that goes back over 150 years. I had been expecting its demise as Essex County falls to more suburban and high tech office building, but what I saw last year gave me hope that the “bottom is in” so to speak on the downfall of such fairs. The local food movement is pretty strong in the cosmopolitan Boston area and given the losing economics of midway rides (think of all the diesel used to run the several large tractor trailer generators to power everything, plus the transport (often interstate) of all those rides, trailers, supplies, and staff), I think fairs like Topsfield might be entering a new golden age. If this trend hasn’t spread yet to smaller fairs around the country, give it some more time in my opinion.

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  14. Rosaon 24 Aug 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Brad, American agricultural fairs predate the USDA by a good bit. You’re probably thinking of the 1914 law that created county extension agents as a part of the USDA (and the 4-H program was brought under their umbrella then, too - I have been to the historical marker of the “birthplace of 4-H” in Page County, Iowa.).

    It’s Fair time here, and I spent the weekend canning instead of going to look at goats & chickens and giant pumpkins.

  15. Leila Abu-Sabaon 25 Aug 2008 at 2:07 am

    This reminds me of the years I spent in the 1980s working for a NY State Economic Development Bank, since gone dormant and folded into the larger state Development Corporation whose name I’ve forgotten. I went to the State Fair in Syracuse several years in a row to sit at the booth and give out literature on our agency; of course I also got to roam the fair on breaks. The starkest memory I have is of a series of old tv set cabinets re-conditioned into chicken coops, set all around the livestock pens; each cabinet contained a couple of chickens dyed garish colors like blue, purple, pink or green. What could it mean?

    Our agency worked desperately to set up a loan package to keep a frozen food processing plant upstate (near Buffalo?) from leaving for the South. It didn’t work out. This would have been in 1987 or 1988.

    Meanwhile, we were entertaining the largest family-owned winemaker in the Champagne district (France) - they wanted to open a winery in the Finger Lakes. Whatever you may think of Finger Lakes wine, Sharon, these champagne makers liked the climate better for champagne grapes - better than California, they said, which had too much sun and made the wine oak-y. My palate is too crude to tell. I don’t know if the company ever did open up a New York State branch.

    You would think that the extensive network of state Economic Development offices could help with agro-tourism and marketing… but maybe those folks don’t think creatively and bureaucracies can’t respond quickly. This seems like the sort of project suited to a chamber of commerce or a county-wide group. Sonoma County, CA sends out a full-color magazine each summer detailing the festivals for the summer/fall season, as well as listing all farmstands, growers, wineries and producers. U-pick-em farms, hoky produce markets that feature pony rides and corn-stalk mazes, high-end wineries and artisan cheesemakers - they’re all listed. Sounds like the Ithaca area is trying to do the same.

    Here in Cali we have farm festivals as well as fairs - the Gilroy Garlic festival is the most famous I think, but the Napa Valley Mustard festival goes on and on in the depths of winter, when everything is green but the tourist and winery business is slow. Almond festival, Plum festival, Gravenstein Apple Festival - you name the produce item, we have a festival for it. Then many of our farmers’ markets have become such a production that they are like weekly fairs in their own right - San Luis Obispo, which hosts a large ag & tech university on the Central Coast, has a farmers’ market on Thursday nights that when I was there featured three large band/orchestras in three locations plus numerous individual musicians performing all over. You can get roasted chickens, beer or wine, and a table, and make a night of it. The Ferry Farmers’ Market in SF is a ridiculously expensive and fabulous tourist attraction; then there are regular folks markets all over, most days.

    Thanks for the travelogue - brings back memories I didn’t know I had. Glad you got the trip. Hey, between the canals and the (we hope) revival of the train system, you might still get to have your tours of NY State in the future. Put the bikes on the train, ride up to Ithaca, get out and bike around!

  16. Lisa Zon 25 Aug 2008 at 8:17 am

    Leila Abu-Saba–we have many similar things going on here in Minnesota. A Garlic Festival started a few years ago and is getting bigger every year. The Farmer’s Market scene is exploding with all kinds of towns starting them–and they seem to be using a community festival model more than a “just put a table in the parking lot and sell veggies” idea. We have a sustainable farming organization that is working hard to support sustainable farmers and train up new ones: http://www.sfa-mn.org/. There are art/local food crawls (yes, combined) in many rural regions of the state too.

    Most of these things have sprung up in the last 8-10 years–or at least gotten more visible, and I’ve been following this stuff for at least 13 years.

    Our county fairs are still going strong, at least where I’ve seen them. The 4H kids and the older women, and some younger moms, are still really into entering homemade foods, homegrown flowers and produce, and crafts at the fairs. And the Minnesota State Fair is of course the biggest and best attended in the nation. We still do have a lot of agricultural pride here in the Heartland, and it’s so exciting to see so much pride around sustainable methods. (Of course, we still have all the mono-cropping, GMOs, terrorist seed companies, etc., but at least there’s a strong movement for something better.)

    Lisa in MN

  17. Sharonon 25 Aug 2008 at 11:56 am

    Leila - The French wine makers may prefer the finger lakes, but at least the sample we had suggested that the champagne was pretty horrible too. I hate to speak badly of home state agricultural products, but the tasting we did, plus the Finger lakes wines I’ve had so far all have topped out at “mediocre” - I don’t claim the world’s most subtle palate, either.

    We also have tons and tons of ag festivals, town harvest festivals, etc… from maple sugaring season through Christmas as well.

    Stephen, I grew up around the Topsfield fair and my sister now lives less than a mile from there - it is a fond childhood (and courtship with Eric) memory, and one of these years I’ve got to get back for the fair.

    Sharon

  18. Kateon 25 Aug 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I appreciate your post and your perspective, Sharon. I know the region very well.

    In recent years, my travels have taken me most often from Northeast NY into the Adirondack Mountains in NY or to southwestern or mid central Vermont.

    I just returned from ten days in Vermont, where I chose to buy a tiny camp instead of buying in the Adirondacks, eight months ago. I wanted to live in a mountain region that was more a rural town area than an area devoted to tourists. The balance is a bit better in Vermont.

    By the way, I saw a lot of RVs, about 20-30 each day I drove.

    Vermont has both rural poverty and second homes. Half of the residential property in Vermont is owned by people who live out of state — like me. There is great need for carpenters, contractors, roofers and people with handyman skills. What I sense is hurting is the stores. People in the local hardware store, family owned grocery, and another grocer a couple miles away all said business is hurting badly. Several store fronts in the tiny downtown were vacant. I bought a new grill at the hardware store when I could have gotten it cheaper online.

    But it’s a very can-do area. Paving is taking place. Re-painting crosswalks before school starts. Re-grading the dirt roads several times after all the rain. Utilities have subcontractors cutting back trees in the forests to stop power problems. There is a lot of activity.

    I think whatever the future holds, we Americans will adapt, but there will be great inequities in how people do that.

    Just some random thoughts.

    Kate

  19. Julie Masonon 25 Aug 2008 at 2:35 pm

    It’s Fair time in Central PA–Grange Fair, that is, the only fair in the country (so I’m told) where people still tent on the grounds.

    http://www.grangefair.net/

    It’s also THE time to see RVs galore on the road…people also come in them to camp at the Fair, but this may be their only trip this year, from the nearby towns to the Fair grounds.

    It’s a true agricultural fair with multiple buildings of produce, baked goods, and handiworks, most, it seems, with ribbons, plus barns of every farm animal and auctions of the 4-H raised critters bought at good prices by local businesses.

    It was good to hear your thoughtful views of all you saw. Makes me think our little oasis may still have much that will translate well into the future.

  20. Lisa Hon 25 Aug 2008 at 2:50 pm

    It’s a very small world: my family and I just got back from a 2 week vacation near T-Berg as the locals call Trumansberg. My dh spent summers there and even lived there a couple of years when his dad was ill and couldn’t work. We went to the same local fair you did: we all looked at the cows and the ribboned veggies and preserves. Housing is a lot cheaper there than it is here in SF bay area but then heating those houses costs a LOT! We saw a lot of property for sale. DH kept wanting to buy property, we love the houses with the wide, wrap-around porches…an emotional response, not a practical one.

    Our cousins are English professors at Cornell and so can afford to do all their shopping at the fabulous Ithaca farmers’ market. They spend most of their discretionary income on local, organic food and they think it’s well worth it. They almost bought a house in T-Berg but in the end bought one so close to Cornell that it’s a 20 minute walk to work.

    My dh’s family farmed in this area in the 1700s and 1800s, the soil is only 6″ deep in most areas, the farming is very poor. There are several grave yards where his ancestors are buried nearby. This was a sentimental journey for him and like you it is unlikely that we will return. It sure is beautiful there this time of year!

    LisaH

  21. Rebeccaon 25 Aug 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I haven’t traveled anywhere this summer, but I live on the I-65 corridor so we get a lot of trouble coming through. I’ve seen MORE RVs than usual this year and I can’t help but wonder if maybe some of those people are actually living in them.
    What I’ve noticed locally is the poverty. Now, this a pretty affluent place. There are more Ph.Ds per capita in this city than anywhere else in the country. There is a LOT of money in this town. But like every place, it has its underbelly and I’ve noticed the deepening poverty of many. Its a slow thing, but noticeable. The poverty is also creeping slowly but surely into the middle classes. More and more people are having their lights cut off (and that number is only going to go up with the 20% rate increase that’s coming in October). The food banks stay empty. Food goes out as fast as it goes in. And yet the chamber of commerce keeps saying all good things are. Hah.

    Our fair here doesn’t actually have any exhibitions or animal competitions. It’s rides, games, motorcyle racing and not much else. The only food there is from the vendors and the only animals are in -the petting zoo. Not kidding. This is a city fair.

  22. Lisa T.on 25 Aug 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Sharon,

    I missed your posts. Will you share about the permaculture camp?

    RVs and dirt roads (or gravel)

    This past weekend my husband used up two tanks of gas in the Chevolet van to pull a 28 ft. camper to our yard.
    You see….we live in a flood zone. I have vivid memories of Floyd and Dennis and the water rising.
    So, if you had 40 acres, and a mule, what would you do????

    Right now we are flushing the lines, hooking up power (30 amp….solar panels??

    Thank you for your posts.
    I have printed off the info on your book and submitting it to the library. It covers three counties here in the Southeast, and although the local community college said their budget wouldn’t be able to cover it, the county library will be stocking it on their shelves (I’ll donate it if I have too)

    To the person whose freezer went out.
    I’ve thought the same thing. Just recently our neighbor was frying up loads of bacon and other stuff when hers went out…

    so I can’t count on freezing.

    Just wanted to let you know I read….edit, don’t post, but thank you nevertheless.

    I’ve read Canticle for Leibowitz….
    what about movies?
    Love sci-fi………..and the fact that you have that list to refer to.
    Lisa

  23. Lisa T.on 25 Aug 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Oh, I thought you screened your posts.

    Regarding the camper…prices are down right now. We can’t afford to build right now, but I’m thinking we can use it as a temporary spot while we map out the land.

    I have heaps of peppers, pears, and apples.

    How to process for the winter?

    Lisa

  24. Fernon 30 Aug 2008 at 11:36 am

    I’m just back from a semi-emergency trip to visit my mother in Chicago - one of my cousins thinks she should be in ’supported living’, and I had to go and evaluate myself. (All is fine with my mother - I think that it’s a combination of some people not believing that mostly blind and deaf folks are functional humans, and my cousin being broke and wanting PAY to live with my mother while cousin moves instead of being greatful for free room and board).

    Anyway, before I left I had to do some highway driving here east of DC, and I could see the tollway and a freight train line from Mom’s balcony. I’ve counted trucks on the highways for years and years. Typically here in my area I’d be passed by 25 trucks going the other way on the highway in any given 5 minute period. But the week before last - 16. It sort of confirmed what I’d noticed on the streets in the area. Watching the tollway (not really fair, since it’s under construction so more construction trucks while 18 wheelers might be avoiding the area) also showed less truck traffic. Train traffic seemed in the normal range, but I’ve never really focused on that before.

    Flights into and out of O’Hare are clearly down (and I was on a much smaller plane to O’Hare than they used to have on the route). Most evenings I could only count 6 planes visible on take-off/landing paths at a time. After the FAA glitch when they were playing catch-up, it got up to 16 for an hour or two. But 20 year ago busy was 24 planes in the sky at a time taking off, landing, circling and stacked up, all visible to anyone watching.

    Fern

  25. arbaitenon 05 Sep 2008 at 12:48 pm

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