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Farmscape Ecology Program
by Conrad VIspo

From the neighborhood, notes from The Farmscape Ecology Program at Hawthorne Valley Farm-

Hawthorne Valley from Phudd Hill, 19 December 2013

We went up the hill above Hawthorne Valley today. It's a rocky rise looking down onto our small valley. In the distance on a clear day, one can see the Catskills beyond the Hudson. The outlook is a nice spot from which to get an overview, removed from day-to-day valley life. Despite the hemlock forest around us and the pastoral scene below, this is no self-contained dale evolving in splendid isolation. In a very real way, it is a part of many other places, and New York City has long been one of those. Becoming conscious of those connections helps us see our greater family, with both the companionship and responsibility that that implies.

The connections between this country and the City (or its predecessor) have a long history. The indigenous people who passed through this valley may have eaten fish which swam by Manhattan, they may have traded wampum made from Long Island mussels. Dutch merchants along the Hudson sought pelts and grew wheat. Much of this was shipped out from NY harbor, and upriver land reflected the consequences of such commerce, in the conversion of floodplain forests to wheat fields and the disappearance of beaver-created wetlands. Later, hay and rye straw were sent downriver to fuel NYC horsepower. Then rail service to the City opened up the market for fresh milk from dairy farms such as the one that became Hawthorne Valley Farm. Those same trains brought tourists and 'summer folk' north. Their visions of rural life shaped the landscaping and architecture that, together with the dairy farms and fruit orchards, helped establish the 'look of the land'.

Today, those land-shaping interactions with NYC continue: the farms, such as Katchkie and Hawthorne Valley, which are supported by City tastes; the landscaping that urban émigrés promote or seek; the ecologies conserved by the intentions and resources of city dwellers - all of these still play a huge role in molding Columbia County's land cover. This little valley is part of NYC, even if no skyscrapers are visible from our perch above the Farm. Likewise, the City becomes part of the valley, as it assimilates the nutrients and philosophies of south-bound cheeses, tomatoes, breads, and salad greens.

Part of our work is to help people become more aware of these profound interactions and then encourage them to explore how these interchanges can be crafted to best support the human culture and natural ecology of valleys such as this and of cities such as NYC. For a bit more on these interactions, please see this document; for more on the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, see our web page, follow us on Facebook, or drop us a line.

Here are some photos from our visits to Katchkie in past winter seasons:

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