Farming and Food Tyranny In The Land Of No

Home Waters – Chatsworth Lake, New Jersey

Farmers in Southern New Jersey Can Find Their Farming Options To Be Severely Limited Because of Wetlands Designation Under The Pinelands Protection Act.

My younger brother owns a thirty acre blueberry farm in southern New Jersey, and recently, we have discussed the possibilities of combining forces. He, with his blueberries, and my wife and I with our expertise in poultry, egg, and squab production, together with the addition of any other farm crops that would surely find a ready market in the local area. It is the “garden state”, after all, and if you have never had the pleasure of the legendary “Jersey Tomato”, then you have missed one of the world’s great culinary treats. It sounded like a grand idea, at least on the hypothetical and hopeful face of it.

However, just under the surface of it all lurked the state of New Jersey’s well deserved reputation for over regulation, government over reach, bureaucratic red tape, and corruption. Pack a large population in a small area of solid ground, squarely on top of that troubling paradigm and you may have an idea why I moved to Colorado more than 35 years ago. Still, the idea of new adventures color our days, and it would be nice to be surrounded by family once again. A small farm in the relative quiet of the Pine Barrens of rural South Jersey, not far from the tidal bays and the salt water fisheries of the Atlantic Ocean, could be a fine place to be. Or so we thought.

Knowing what I do about zoning and regulation, and the ongoing and escalating war waged upon the small farmer, I began to research the land use and planning issues related to such a venture. It has been a farm for many decades, after all, so what kind of potential issues or problems could there be? Well, quite a few, as it turns out, and the entire, sorry mess is so complicated that my head spins as I write this. I will do my best to explain to you as I race to comprehend it myself.

It is no surprise to discover that a great deal has changed since I moved away in 1976. The area in which we grew up is known as the Pine Barrens, and it was our backyard, and our playground. We hunted for bobwhite quail and whitetailed deer in the hardwoods behind our house, or fished for slashing grass pickerel or plump yellow bullheads in the tea colored lakes. Mostly, we wandered and roamed as we chose, or road our dirt bikes on the endless sand roads.

We were to young and preoccupied to be aware of the tremendous development interests and numerous conflicting desires overwhelmingly focused on the Pine Barrens.The area had always been recognized for it’s unique cultural and natural resources. So unique, in fact, that in a partnership agreement Congress and the State of New Jersey created the Pinelands National Reserve under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, and the 1979 New Jersey Pinelands Protection Act. It became the first National Reserve in the nation, encompassing 1.1 million acres and making up the largest tract of open space on the mid-atlantic coast. It makes up over 20% of New Jersey’s land area, and is underlain by some of the highest quality and voluminous aquifers on planet earth. The importance of these aquifers cannot be overstated. It is the presence of these waters that define the Pinelands.

New Jersey’s Famous Cedar Colored Waters

The Pinelands Protection Act established the Pinelands Commission, which functions as the planning authority for the reserve. Preservation, protection, and development guidelines are contained in The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. The plan is administered by the Commission in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies.

So what does this all mean for a small farmer in the Pinelands of southern New Jersey? Well, it means everything, as you might guess. Under the Act, county and municipal master plans and zoning ordinances must comply with the Management Plan. The Plan is a regulatory instrument, which provides for the exercise of police powers to enforce the allowable uses of land and waters.

Shamong Bog New Jersey Pinelands

While one of the main objectives of the plan is to promote the continuation and expansion of agricultural uses, it aIso protects the quality of surface and ground water. Other objectives aim to preserve and maintain the essential character of the environment, including indigenous animal and plant species and their habitats. It does all of this while discouraging scattered and “incompatible” development, and provides incentives in an effort to steer development towards less ecologically sensitive areas of the The Reserve.

I did not know any of this when I began to investigate the idea of farming with my brother. The farm sits at the outer edge, but within, the Pinelands National Reserve. He purchased it in the early 1990’s, with the knowledge that the previous owner had sold away the building development rights for the property. I discovered that under the Management Plan those rights had become Pinelands Development Credits, and were “severed” when they were sold to the Pinelands Development Credit Bank. But it was an existing blueberry farm, albeit “deed restricted”, and for him that was all that mattered.

Blueberries In The Sun

As I continued to research, I was led to believe that there were no issues or potential problems with the idea of raising and marketing poultry from this land, or any problems with expanding into other agricultural uses. I had already looked into what I knew to be applicable federal and state laws regarding on-farm poultry processing, so I next spoke with the appropriate people at the County and Township levels. New Jersey is a “Home Rule” state, which means a great deal of the business there is handled by the municipalities.

I found out that my brother’s farm meets the standards for, and is considered a “qualified farm” under The New Jersey Farmland Assessment Act. In simple terms, this means that he has the required amount of land under agricultural production, and therefore enjoys the benefit of reduced property taxes. I also discovered that the property had the proper zoning for agricultural use. Neither the county, or the local township, could point out any reason why we could not put our business plan into action. It was then that I received a call back from the offices of the Pineland Commission. The wheels of progress grounded to a halt and ended our simple entrepreneurial dreams, bashed to pulp once again under the heel of a bureaucrat’s boot.

It was explained to me that the property does fall within the Agricultural Production Area, one of the nine land use management zones established by the Management Plan Land Capability Map of The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. These are areas of active agricultural use, generally used for upland field agriculture and row crops. The”uplands”, so named for obvious reasons, are the opposite of “wetlands”.

Depending on which report you read, about 25% of the Pinelands Reserve are made up of various wetland types. About 50% of the Reserve consists of private inholdings. As luck, or in his case, bad luck, would have it, my brother’s farm includes very little uplands and is comprised almost entirely of a major wetland type. The Comprehensive Management Plan establishes special rules regarding wetlands within the Reserve. All development is prohibited, including any development within 300″ of a wetland. The planning and zoning specialists at the county and township offices could have explained this to me at the time and saved me a great deal of time and effort. Apparently, they were not aware of the existence of wetlands either, even though they were looking at the recorded deeds, land surveys, and advanced GIS maps.

As far as I can tell, the farm is considered an inland wetland bog, precisely because the vegetation is dominated by “blueberries”. No there’s a surprise! Wetlands include lands with poorly drained or very poorly drained soils. These areas have very high water tables (at least seasonally), where the water table is often less than 18″ from the surface.

The Management Plan goes further. It contains special provisions with regard to agricultural and horticultural uses in wetlands. It permits horticulture activities related to native Pineland species, and blueberry and cranberry agriculture. It also allows beekeeping. And that’s it! No other agricultural uses are permitted.

Our farming plans and business hopes hinge almost entirely on a few sentences in an diabolically complicated 269 page document, created by an army of lawyers, land planners, and politicians. The document attempts to cover every last detail of the management of a one million acre reserve. But in the end it adds up to one clear result. The Pinelands Commission has final authority in what you may do or not do on your own farm.

Incredulous, I asked for further clarification on allowable uses of this land. I explained that with the exception of a small pond, there was no standing water or boggy areas on the property. By all appearances it was “high ground”.

Could we free range some turkeys or other poultry amongst the blueberries, to clean up bugs or weeds? The answer was a resounding “No”!. Could one build a small chicken coop, perhaps even a temporary structure, in an effort to provide a few farm fresh eggs. Again, the answer was no. Could we turn loose a goat, or a cow, or any other livestock animal? You guessed it, the answer was no. Could we plant any type of vegetable anywhere on the property, or start a small home garden, or tend a tomato plant or two? No!, came the response. There is no debate on these matters. There is also no appeal process. One may apply for a Waiver of Strict Compliance, but any waiver must comply with the issues of wetlands management under the Management Plan. So, in other words, no! Any other questions?

So there you have it. My brother may own one of the few farms in the United States where almost all normal farming practices are disallowed, under penalty of the law. You could say that the responsibility for his lack of understanding falls only on him, and that he should have researched the laws and regulations before purchasing the land. After all, the creation of the Pinelands Reserve is old news to millions of people. But obviously, not to us.

Stalks of Green – Jersey Corn

We always assumed that it was a farm, and a farmer could farm like farmers do, and have done for centuries. It’s embarrassing even, to realize that we may be the last men standing in the land of Jersey that never realized how our property rights had been affected. That being said, my brother assures me that no one with the Pinelands Commission, a congressional delegation, or other group ever dropped by to discuss life under the microscope of a national reserve. No one ever asked him how he felt about it, or how it may have changed his opportunities or plans.

Afterall, who in their wildest imaginations could ever believe it would become illegal to grow a garden in the garden state? Who could anticipate that it would be considered an illegal act to harvest a tomato from your own property, in an area known worldwide for the quality of it’s essence? How could it be a crime to free range a chicken, and gather it’s eggs on a glorious spring morning in the beauty of the pines? How can it be?

As a wildlife biologist, I could be one of the first people to sing the praises and the joys of wetland ecosystems. I can easily tout the many worthwhile and incredibly important reasons to protect and preserve them. In fact, I have done just that many, many times. Yet, in this case, I simply disagree.

To dictate what a private property holder can accomplish on his hard-won land, after already announcing to the world that it is indeed a “qualified” farm, completely destroys the concept of good and common sense. It may not be the kind of farm of which you approve, but it is a farm none the less. To deny a reasonable use is a destruction of private property rights. It’s the worst kind of theft, because it patronizes and destroys while purporting to protect. It makes a mockery of one’s civil liberties, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It rips and strips the permissions of a local government, and places the authority in the arms of a totalitarian and god like national power. My brother’s options were already gone when he purchased his farm, and he never even knew it. It can’t be right! What good is owning property after all, if in the end it is not even legal to feed yourself from it?

The mere mention of the word “wetlands” can inflict paralyzing terror upon the soul of any land developer, as perhaps it should in many circumstances.  However, a wetlands designation is more often used as a life extinguishing dagger strike, straight to the center of the heart of all private property holders. The law and the regulators allow no distinction between the ruthless profiteer and the considerate land steward, unless they want it to. It does not recognize the concepts of sustainable agriculture or holistic management, or any other low impact and whole farm management methods. In that regard, it is the not so secret and ultimate weapon of all land use planners, and the heavy hammer of all controlling agencies and fascist slave masters of the world. A small, lonely farmer or insignificant land owner rarely survives the encounter.

The Pinelands National Reserve may be the most restrictive and intensively managed regional land use regime in the United States. But it gets worse. Did I mention that in 1983 the Pinelands Reserve was designated a U.S. Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, otherwise known as Unesco? Or that in 1988, it was further designated as an International Biosphere Reserve? What mechanism was applied to grant authority to an international body in the land use decisions of an independent and free nation? Am I the only person that feels uncomfortable with the involvement of the United Nations in the management of the Pinelands Reserve?  Something tells me that there is more to this story, and that it does not bode well for the future of people of the Pine Barrens. For example, there has already been an effort to make hunting and fishing illegal in a Biosphere Reserve, unless done so under very specific conditions.

I write this mostly to share with you my utter and complete disbelief, and to warn not to let this happen to you. I am left with only more disturbing questions. Why do we continue to allow ourselves to be directed by scientists and so-called experts, who always seem to know what is best for us as they collect their payments from those who tell them what to say and how to say it? Why do we continue to tolerate the perverse and prying attacks of an all-powerful but openly corrupt government, which seems hell bent in it’s determination to dictate all aspects of our lives including what and how we may eat?  How can we continue to be dictated to through laws and regulations created to control our land, by people that we have never met, while standing on the very ground we walked upon and called our home long before the legislation was even conceived? What devious plans lay before us, just out of reach of our understanding? Can you tell me, – does it, can it, will it, ever end? In the final analysis, it is up to you, and me, and us. You can click here to find good quality affordable farming tools which can help you yield better crops.

Left unchecked, the hidden masters will continue to classify and designate and legislate our private property rights into oblivion. Our personal and regional identity, in fact our national sovereignty, will disappear completely into the morning mist of a cranberry bog or blueberry field. If this concerns or disturbs, you may wish to become acquainted with, and in fact very familiar with, the term “Agenda 21”! This many-headed monster grows larger, and more powerful, every day.

Michael Patrick McCarty

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We’re Fracked!, and Other Horrid Tales

Last week my wife and I attended a meeting regarding one energy company’s plans for natural gas drilling in our community near Silt, Colorado, on Colorado’s western slope. The small meeting room was packed, the tension high. The meeting had been announced in the paper on short notice, without regard to the previous requests of local community contacts for increased communication and appropriate notifications. Area residents wanted to know just what was up, and how new drilling operations would affect their property and their lives. They were ready to do battle to protect themselves from the onslaught.

The top executive and main spokesman fairly well diffused the situation by stating that their would be no new drilling activities north of the Colorado River in 2012. The public crowd seemed stunned, deflated, and perplexed. Had we not been told that drilling and fracking would occur in our area this year, and that it was imminent?

Most of the natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations in our area have taken place south of Highway I-70 and the Colorado River. The activities have been and continue to be intense. There have been consequences and environmental insults too numerous to mention here. Just recently it was announced that the Garfield County Commissioners have moved to complete a study exploring a link between natural gas development and methane in the shallow groundwater deposits. An earlier phase of the study led one geological consultant to conclude that methane levels were increasing in domestic water wells because of gas development. It was later found that methane and methane compounds turned up in all six groundwater monitoring wells.

So, as you can see, I for one am extremely glad that there will be no drilling near my house in 2012. For now, I, along with others, can breathe a sigh of relief. We can wait until 2013 or later for the industry to poison our water wells, foul our once glorious sweet mountain air, and run us off the road with heavy tanker trucks sloshing about with thousands of gallons of hazardous waste on board. Recently, a tanker truck overturned and spilled an estimated 500 gallons of produced water, which is found deep underground with oil and gas deposits and comes to the surface along will hydraulic fracturing fluids. The spill narrowly missed a contamination of the Colorado River. We should all feel good that a crisis was averted and the spill team was johnny on the spot, you see. The trout in the river are a bit nervous though.

No one really knows why they will not work on our side of the river this year. It could be because natural gas prices are way down and they will have to wait until they rise again. It could be that the previous exploratory wells have proved unworthy for production to be economically feasible. They are still studying that one, we are told. Or, it could be that they are simply too busy already with there ongoing operations south of the river, gleefully fracking away. They did mention briefly that there is ongoing litigation related to their exploratory drilling operations on the north side. One family feels that they were made sick. They had already been forced to flee. Could that have something to do with the ceasing of drilling here, pray tell?

I listened to the industry executive describe their ongoing and future plans. He was a true expert in the art of deflecting the discussion away from the heart of the matter. No doubt this was a skill which had helped him to get where he was on the corporate ladder. I studied his demeanor, his expressions, and body language. I watched him bite his lip and spit out his words, albeit quite professionally. His utter contempt for the general public was not concealable. It was obvious that he did not want to be there.

I sat quietly as his minions and underlings answered our questions, quite eager to please the boss. They were experts at deflection too. Their job was to answer it right, without saying too much or providing opportunity for alarm or additional questions. They were prepared and ready and they knew just what to say. They were happy to answer, without apology. All was right in their world. I looked at all of them and thought that there is no doubt that they have drunk the Kool-Aid. They are perfectly possessed, but by what is open for debate. For them it is a righteous endeavor and I do not believe they are capable of hearing anything we would like to say.

Before attending the meeting, I read a newspaper article that discussed the fact that the frequency and number of spills and releases attributed to the natural gas industry in our state had dropped significantly in 2011 compared to 2010. A specialist with the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission (COGCC) had praised the industry for it’s improving record. Their report stated that 54 spills and ongoing releases were documented in 2011, compared to 99 incidents in 2010. However, the COGCC conceded that their five field inspectors had a difficult time covering the large northwest quadrant of Colorado – and that spills and releases could occur without being reported. They also reported that total drilling activity for 2011 was considerably down.

Spills are handled differently in each case. Sometimes, clean dirt is poured on top of an area where a spill has taken place, and then “blended” until the contaminant level meets appropriate standards. In other words, they are diluted and left in the hopes that they degrade over time, as they migrate down to groundwater.

I don’t know about others, but somehow this does not provide me comfort nor speak well of the natural gas industry. Am I to celebrate the fact that “only” 54 spills were documented, and that many others are most probably unreported?  Does anyone know exactly what was spilled and the details of all of their potential health effects? Am I to assume that my water well or the well of my neighbors will not be contaminated, because someone said it would be O.K.? I know that I am not the only one asking these questions. I hope that more and more people will ask them also.

During the meeting I asked about the newly passed law regarding the disclosure of the content of fracking fluids. One of the representatives was happy to answer. He assured me that it was a good law, and that they were happy to comply. They had in fact been already complying. Of course, they still did not have to reveal any formulas that could be designated as “proprietary”. Indeed.

He assured me that only about 1% of the fluid mixture contained anything to be concerned about. Really. So in other words, about 1% of the fracking fluids contained something to be concerned about. Huh?

The boss stepped in to purport the joys and harmlessness of fracking fluids. He said in a nutshell that the industry was already addressing the concerns of the public and was working to stay ahead of the curve. The composition of fracking fluids were becoming more “green”. He projected that within about six years the standard for fracking fluids would result in a mixture that would present very little for the public to worry about.

Again, – really? So, for at least six years I do have something to worry about. But not too much, because only 1% of the fracking fluids contain anything that might harm me. One percent equals one of a hundred. Might you be aware of potential harmful effects of some chemicals in concentrations of say, one in a million? Or how about, one in a billion. That’s a very small number for an effect that may produce a result that can be devastating to human health. Of course, there are some bad things that we do not have to tell you about. Well, I feel better. You can frack a lot of wells in six years. No wonder they are working as fast as they can.

After the general discussion, I questioned an engineer about the ins and outs of well casing design, which he was obviously very into and happy to discuss. He told me that their casings were double and triple lined with pipe and concrete. There was no way that the shallow ground water table could be affected, because there was no chance for a leak or cross contamination.

Really? I guess he had not read of the recent findings concerning the lax and inconsistent federal oversight of the drilling industry on public lands. Only six percent of violations resulted in monetary fines over 13 years, totaling less than $275,000. A total of 113 major violations cited inadequate well-casing or cementing. These procedures are a key defense against groundwater contamination. Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey stated that “This report indicates that confidence in the oversight of drilling on public lands should be limited, at best”.

Later, I pointed to the big wall map of our area and asked the boss about the possible locations of possible pipe lines on the north side of the river. He looked at me kind of funny, and it seemed like he did not want to answer. Finally, he waved his hand across the map a time or two. He then said something like “the exact location isn’t that important”. “Funny thing”, I said. I told him it was kind of important to me,as he had just swept his finger very close to or directly through my property. He turned and walked away.

So, folks, how to you tell when one of the local gas industry reps is probably lying. You guessed it, their lips are moving. They must lie. The truth does damage. From my point of view, one spill is one spill too many. One percent of anything bad is one percent too much. One improperly cemented well casing is one mistake past acceptable.

This meeting could have happened in any fire station or town hall across the united states. There might not be too much we can do to stop them. My advice is to start screaming and keep screaming loudly. Scream until someone gets the message. Keep out of our neighborhoods. You are not welcome here.

Take a moment to ask the good citizens of Pavillion, Wyoming what they might think of hydraulic fracturing. They are screaming right now.

 

 

 

 

 

Food For Thought

Like many of you we sometimes wonder how it will remain possible to live peacefully and joyfully in what seems to be an ever more crazy world. We don’t have the answers, but we do have some ideas.

One idea may be “to somehow turn off the stereo that is the world”, as our instructor and martial arts expert Mr. Chet Zajak once told our class.

Well, we like our music around here, so we don’t know about the stereo bit, but we know what he was trying to say.

Master songwriter John Prine offers some great advice in his lyrics from “Spanish Pipedream”, a song we have always loved. How about this:

“Blow up your T.V., throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home.

Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, Try an find Jesus, on your own”.

Works for us.

Monuments And Lies

“They (food laboratories and huge food processing facilities) are the monuments to an elitist hierarchy that wants ignorant consumers, an industrial dependent class too afraid and too confused to discover the joy and taste of their own kitchen”. From “This Ain’t Normal Folks”, by Joel Salatin.

Well, we may be a bit ignorant sometimes, but we like to eat. The more we learn of the absurdities of our current, over regulated food system and it’s associated “food police” as Mr. Salatin calls them, the more creative we wish to become in our kitchen.

So, bake some home made bread, from scratch. I believe Henry David Thoreau had something to say about just that, many years ago. Save the planet! Help put a bureaucrat out of business today. Use your kitchen.

Here’s to all home kitchen warriors. Rock on. We salute you!

 

A Journal of Honest Food, Freedom, and The Natural World