A recent New York Times editorial documented the unfortunate closing of the oldest family farm in the United States. Tuttle’s Red Barn in Dover, New Hampshire, is the latest victim of the economic downturn, though it would not be entirely correct to state it is entirely the economy which led to its demise.
To fully grasp the impact of this, one should note just how long this farm has been in operation. The Tuttle farm was founded in 1632, from a land grant in the New World from King Charles II to John Tuttle. Yes, 1632, well over a century prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The demise of the Tuttle farm has as much to do with the radical change in food production over the past century. From the article:
It is too simple to say, as the Tuttles have, that the recession killed a farm that had survived for nearly 400 years. What killed it was the economic structure of food production. Each year it has become harder for family farms to compete with industrial scale agriculture — heavily subsidized by the government — underselling them at every turn. In a system committed to the health of farms and their integration with local communities, the result would have been different. In 1632, and for many years after, the Tuttle farm was a necessity. In 2010, it is suddenly superfluous, or so we like to pretend.
While it is admirable that the Tuttle farm lasted as long as it did, I am saddened by the loss of a centuries-old institution. While I’ve never been to New Hampshire (in fact, I’ve probably done about 10% of the travel I would like to have by this point in my life), I do have a significant respect for farmers and ranchers which do things the old fashioned way. I hope the site at least continues in operation as a farm, ideally operated similar to the way the Tuttles kept going for so long. (In 2006, the farm was granted a deed restriction as conservation land, so at least the land will not be turned into yet another subdivision or strip mall.)
Anyway, on to my next point. It says a lot about how we, as a society, have changed, and not necessarily for the better. We’ve gone from getting our food from family-run farms, and for the most part respecting the dividing line between urban and rural areas, to mass-market, genetically-engineered produce and meats, and a level of urban sprawl that’s downright scary. To underscore what I mean, take for example the house I’m sitting in right now. It’s about a mile north of the I-610 loop. Back in the 1950s, when my grandparents moved out to this area, this was the outskirts of town. Now, one doesn’t see farmland as such until one clears The Woodlands going north (a good 20 miles up I-45).
I’m not saying we should tear down everything in the suburbs, but I have serious doubts this kind of sprawl is sustainable, especially given what it’s costing us. And the true cost of a lot of things is not evident at all from the price tag on the shelf.