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Après Le Déluge

AgriCulture bloggers Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer are the owners of Turkana Farms in Germantown, NY. This week Peter writes.

Rural Intelligence FoodAs we spent the days intently preparing at the farm for what turned out to be Superstorm Sandy, our concern about the welfare of our Cedar Street gallery/loft in Lower Manhattan was fairly low in our consciousness. It was preparing the farm and its livestock for what we thought would come that totally preoccupied us.

While seeing that the irrigation channels in the lower piggery area were cleared and, in some cases deepened, to divert water flowing from our swollen seasonal stream away from the already sodden pig pens, it was very far from our thoughts that Hudson River waters might actually surge and lap up to the very doorstep of 125 Cedar St. And that, on the other side of the island, a matter of blocks away, the East River would also simultaneously surge to engulf the South Street Seaport area, transforming lower Wall Street, only a matter of blocks from our city door, into a river afloat with cars.

Rural Intelligence FoodWhile our immediate concerns were in securing our farm shelters and seeing that we filled our granaries and mangers, and tanked up water containers so that our livestock had sufficient feed, hay, and water, it never occurred to us that whole swaths of New York City and the surrounding region might be inundated, leaving thousands of people trapped in high rise buildings with no electricity, no elevators, no phone or web service, and in some cases, no water and dwindling food sources.

As we battened down the light weight portable pasture pens housing our meat chickens, and added additional tarpaulins to provide shelter for them from the expected high winds and deluge of rain predicted, we never expected to see the shambles of houses, piers, and boats that wind and water would make of the coastal areas of the region.

Those of us living on farms inescapably feel extremely vulnerable to whatever the natural world feels like throwing at us. After the experience of Sandy I am sure some of this awareness has now crept into the sensibilities of New Yorkers. As we well know, being caught between the two worlds, city life can give one a sense of separation from the natural world, a sense of apartness that can make urban dwellers highly vulnerable when all of the supports and buffers hitherto taken for granted are suddenly ripped away.

Inevitably, the old comparisons of the “city mouse” with the “country mouse” come to mind.  When it comes to a severe event like Sandy, it is the farmer (the country mouse) who must be resourceful and care for a dependent, in many ways helpless, farm population: the cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry. While, on the other hand, it is the urban dweller (the city mouse) who is dependent on all of the systems and services that keep city life going.

Rural Intelligence FoodAn interesting parallel occurs to me, which is that when domesticated animals are compared with varieties of animals comparable to them in the wild, it is the wild versions that have considerably larger brains and exhibit greater brain power. This difference results from them having to learn to find their own food, to remember where it is stored,  to learn their territories, and to evade and escape predators.  On the other hand, domesticated animals, accustomed to having their food delivered to them and living in a territory defined for them free of predators, need less brain power than their cousins in the wild. It might be said that the urban dweller is like the domestic farm animal, has a greater dependency on all kinds of support systems: for food, warmth, and protection as well as other forms of care emanating from the mayor on down to the apartment building super.  (Of course, in all fairness it should be pointed out that the city dweller has to develop a whole set of different skills for survival in an urban environment, but that is another subject.)

While it might seem to some that we are priding ourselves on being the superior country mouse, this is far from being the case. Undeniably, we are, of course, both. We know the dependency of the city mouse from long experience, but we have also, these past eleven years, been required to learn some of the take-charge independence of the country mouse.

Which form of supreme mousiness we finally attain is at this point still unknowable. But what is knowable is that we are extremely happy these days to have the refuge of the farm, despite its responsibilities, given the parlous state of our beloved, unfortunate City.

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 11/04/12 at 12:29 AM • Permalink

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