Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The last quiet corner . . .

William Yardley in the NYT (for this post only, I'm leaving off the W -- but the W stays for any discussion of David Sanger's whitewash of the latest leak from the UK) writes about the development pressure in Windham County and the struggle to resist it. I'm thinking I may need to start a separate Windham County blog, but for now, we're still here.

The general sentiment in the small towns is to keep things the way they are, as much as possible, but that's very tricky. Zoning, environmental and building regulations have to make a viable rural economy possible, but distinguishing between an organic vegetable farm and a factory hog farm; allowing small scale artisanal manufacturing (like a pottery or decorative wrought iron works) while keeping out the lead smelters; promoting tourism so the locals can sell their maple syrup, herb vinegars, pick-your-own apples and handiworks while stopping the 250 acre Swamp Yankeeland theme park -- all that sort of thing gets very difficult, and contentious.

Rural America is in a quandary, in danger of falling over in any of three directions and trying to find that point of wobbly balance in the middle. Downfall number one is turning into the suburbs, selling off the farms for high-priced subdivisions called Richborough Acres and Hillydale Farms Estates, the general store and the tractor dealer replaced by a shopping center and a Chemlawn franchise. Downfall number two is "anything for a job" syndrome. The latest proposal is a Nascar track, and of course we already have the "Indians" building more hotel rooms and cavernous halls full of money eating machines. Downfall number three is stagnation and decline -- the kids all graduating high school and leaving never to return, the general store shuttered, the last farmers holding onto their operations even as they lose their teeth and their eyesight. At that point, (1) or (2) become inevitable, for those of us not far off the interstate between Boston and New York. (In the Great Plains, the alternative is extinction and tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street.)

Fortunately, New England is the one part of the country where the number of farms is actually increasing -- thanks to small-scale enterprises that grow for the local market, principally. I've been trying since last summer to get Festus to let me spend a day working for him, for nothing, except the knowledge of his operation and how he succeeds. It turns out the reason he was putting me off is that a lot of people want to do exactly that, and he's not interested in being an object of curiosity. He finally agreed, though, and I'm going down on Friday. We'll keep you posted.

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