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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 27, 2007

Will pastoral view be lost from sight"

Our newspaper was young — just five years old — when Isabel Haverly in 1889 painted the New Scotland winter scene that graces our front page this week. The back of the gilt-framed picture says, "For George Joslin from Sister Kate."

The oil painting found its way to us through the family of the late Shorty Vrooman — a onetime co-owner of The Altamont Enterprise — and has hung on the wall of our news room for years.

We find it a soothing scene in hectic times and thought this week we’d use our new technology — four-color offset printing — to bring you the beauty of an age-old view. We particularly like the startling yellow light over the cool blue of the Helderbergs, captured on a long-ago winter day.

As the year draws to a close and we publish our reviews this week of local events in 2007, we realize this is a scene we should not take for granted. Open space and rural character are rapidly disappearing from view. Many of our towns have realized this and elected leaders are working to see those things are preserved. We hope they persevere.

They are fighting an uphill battle.

Three well-respected and important farmers died this year in the Helderberg Hilltowns. In September, Mary Ellen Gordon died in her home on Beebe Road in Knox after heroically battling lung cancer for four years. She was 54. "I grew up on a Ford tractor," recalled her younger daughter, Maggie Gordon. "I used to sit on her knee as she drove through Dad’s hayfields."

"My Mom and Dad have always been avid farmers and try to live in connection with the land," said her elder daughter, Sarah Gordon. The family ran two different businesses and both parents were equally involved, she said. At the time of her death, Mrs. Gordon was president of Gordon Farms and her husband, Alexander Gordon, was vice president.

On Nov. 1, Harold Lendrum of Berne died. He was 78. A farmer and environmentalist, his mission was to preserve farmland, said his son Kenneth Lendrum. Harold Lendrum was born on the farm that his family developed over 200 years ago. He worked on the farm until his death. He died after being kicked by a cow he had brought to auction.

The Lendrums farm about 900 acres. Every time a Hilltown farm or property was for sale or homeowners were retiring to Florida, Harold Lendrum and his son, Alan, bought the land, said Kenneth Lendrum.

"The secret is to work seven days a week for 52 weeks a year and you do it because you love it," said Kenneth Lendrum

Later in November, Robert Briggs Whipple, a long-time Knox farmer, died. He was 77. He was always expanding and improving his farm. "He just recently achieved one of his dreams, a 50-year-long dream, building a vegetable shed," said his son and farming partner, Brian Whipple, of the Malachi Farms vegetable stand.

"Farming was his avocation," said his daughter, Deborah Degan. "That’s all he ever wanted to do...He spent much of his boyhood helping out on the farm," she said, recalling that when he had farmed with his grandfather and uncle, they used horses.

Mr. Whipple farmed right up until he was hospitalized, she said; he died of complications following surgery. "He had incredible enthusiasm," Ms. Degan said of her father’s farming. "He was almost visionary, always looking ahead to the next thing."

We, as a community, are fortunate that each of these farmers has family members who will carry on their work. In Mrs. Gordon’s case, her husband will carry on. For Mr. Lendrum, his son, Alan, will continue the family farm tradition, and for Mr. Whipple, his son, Brian.

Too often, when farmers die, particularly those with small family farms, typical of the Helderbergs, no one is willing or able to continue the arduous work. The passion and dedication of these three farmers — to their work and to their community — will be sorely missed.

This year, we sadly covered the announcement that the Albany County Farm Service Agency office will close. We wrote here in September that it makes no sense if farmers here are struggling, faced with heavy development pressure, to pull out the support they have. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed in October that she would continue to fight plans to consolidate offices in New York State, including the one in Albany County.

But the closing remains scheduled for early next year. Local farmers will now have to travel to an office that also serves Schoharie and Schenectady counties. Albany County farmers were disappointed and angry at the news, announced in October. Many farmers had spoken passionately against the closing at a hearing in September, to no avail.

Farmers with small operations, especially dairy farmers who have to milk twice a day, simply can’t spare half a day to travel to Cobleskill, said Jim Abbruzzese of Altamont Orchards who chairs the Albany County FSA committee, elected to the post by other farmers.

Beyond that, he said, the local office, in New Scotland, would "reach out" to farmers in need, himself included.

In 1988, when frost destroyed two-thirds of his crop, the director of Albany County’s FSA office reached out to Abbruzzese and helped him apply for federal disaster relief; he was awarded a check that sustained him through difficult times.

"This office has kept me in business," said Abbruzzese. "It’s an asset to the whole community. Everyone enjoys coming out to the farm and getting fresh fruit."

He’s right. We all enjoy the fresh fruit and other safe produce raised by local farmers. Supporting our farmers by buying locally saves the energy used in transport as well as providing fresher, safer food.

With farms still operating in our midst, taxes are kept in check since farms don’t require the schools and services that suburban and commercial developments do. And working farms preserve the open space that prevents traffic congestion and an overburdening of municipal services.

Last, but certainly not least, working farms preserve country vistas like the one portrayed on our front page this week. Such scenes uplift us all. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they existed only in old paintings and not in real life"

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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