Discussion to look at Catskill farming

The Daily Star

September 19, 2007

The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development in Arkville will host a discussion of Catskills farming culture from 1 to 3 p.m. with guest speakers Sally Fairbairn and Wes Gillingham.

The two sessions will compliment the current Erpf Gallery exhibit, “Farming Culture,” featuring paintings by Stu Eichel and Laura Hussey.

In her discussion “The Making of a Natural Farmer,” Fairbairn will center on her own development as a farmer and environmentalist, including some discussion of why her farm is not organic. She will talk about the farm she is operating now and how it differs from what she used to do. The presentation will be punctuated with a few of Fairbairn’s original poems, and she will talk about her recent piece in The Place You Call Home, the Northern Woodland magazine. Copies of this publication will be available free of charge.

Fairbairn was born and raised in the Margaretville area. Her parents, Morton and Emmeline Scudder, owned Riverby Farm on Route 30. She attended New York University and majored in English, intending to be a high school English teacher, but left after one year. She returned to her farming roots, marrying local veterinarian Dr. John Fairbairn and running their Halcott Center dairy farm with him for many years. After they retired from dairy farming, she raised sheep for a few years, moving to the Fairbairn family’s land in Rider Hollow outside of Arkville during the late 1980s. Her farming life came full circle when her older son decided to become a dairy farmer.

Fairbairn said she has tried to combine farming and writing without much success, and is a past president of the M-ARK Project and Writers in the Mountains. She is a member of the Watershed Agricultural Council and a trustee of the Catskill Water Discovery Center.

Gillingham will present “A Half-Mile from the Road,” a brief history of Wild Roots Farm and how it went from a cabin in the woods to a 150-member community-supported agriculture program. Gillingham will discuss how the CSA model builds community, as well as the philosophical, political and practical choices his family dealt with to build a business, contend with major flooding, have two children and build an ecologically appropriate log home in seven years. In addition, the group will discuss animals as part of the farmstead, creating a CSA, looking toward the future crops for tomorrow and more.

Gillingham grew up on the ridge above Livingston Manor. He started working on a dairy farm next door as a “waste management specialist” for 90 cents an hour when he was 12, and worked there until going to college. After college he started working for the National Audubon Society Expedition Institute and became an acting director in the field program. Gillingham taught at AEI with the belief that the best way to learn about the environment is to experience it directly. He led full-semester programs in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Newfoundland, Florida, southern Appalachia, the desert Southwest, the Pacific Northwest and Gulf Coast. During this time, Gillingham said he gained a passion for and recognized the need for healthy local food. He and his wife, Amy, have been growing organic vegetables and herbs commercially since 1997.

Gillingham served on the board of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and the Sullivan County Farm Bureau. Over the last year, he and a coalition of partners launched the Catskill Mountain Keeper, a nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is to protect the ecological integrity of the Catskill Mountain range and the quality of life of all those who live there.

The Catskill Center is a nonprofit, membership organization working to foster healthy ecosystems and vibrant communities in the Catskills.

For more information, visit http://www.catskillcenter.org or call (845) 586-2611


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