Rumbling wooden wheels slice through noise from the Thruway, waking us from restless sleep. In the hours before dawn, an Amish family is going somewhere in their buggy.
During the past few years, members of the sect have bought so much county farmland that the sight and sound of horse-drawn conveyances has become downright commonplace. Up where the kids are thinking of moving, their farms stretch for miles, with mules, horses, small school houses, and tidy farm stands abounding. Love them, or hate meeting dark wagons on dark roads, they seem to be here to stay.
Yet I can remember traveling to a cattle auction with the boss and seeing them for the first time, down in Lancaster, Pa. It was an interesting trip to a very beautiful and prosperous region.
Many of our new neighbors originally come from there.
However, as that region became more urbanized and the highways more crowded with speeding cars, many Amish found it nearly impossible to even get onto the roads from their farm driveways, let alone to drive safely. I have heard that cited as one reason why they moved up this way.
Hearing that early morning clip-clopping of trotting hooves made me wonder if there is room for local counties to encourage ag tourism, much as Lancaster has long done. Montgomery County officials have been discussing 'branding" the county in order to attract business and visitors. A quote from YNN, "We are trying to determine what the brand is for the county's economic development marketing and tourism component, and how we should be marketing that brand," said Jacki Meola, Montgomery County Business Improvement Development Center.
Lancaster offers a wide assortment of attractions for visitors, ranging from tours, museums, theater, and buggy rides, to inns, bed and breakfasts, and farm stands. The county website offers many pages of casual dining restaurants serving the area, not to mention fine dining, microbrew pubs, bakeries, jam and candy factories, and gift shops. Farm stands are ubiquitous there, and indeed many of the Amish produce stands here are stocked with crops from there.
Although many of Lancaster's attractions are offered by the Amish families themselves, there are dozens of tie-ins to local mainstream businesses as well.
The Lancaster County website provides a great example of successfully tying various smaller attractions together to combine to bring people to an area. The concept seems to be at least worth exploring here, as our county tries to differentiate itself from others upstate and to attract new visitors.
As is already being discussed, Montgomery County offers a gateway to the Adirondack Mountains, Saratoga Race Course and Raceway, our own motor raceways, and is even handy to the state capital, with its museums and entertainment. Coordinating all this with our local Amish population, as well as with our wealth of conventional farms and orchards, many of which already offer agro tourism events, might be a good way to brand the county in a unique manner that would bring in people and support existing businesses, as well as offering opportunities for new ones.
The governor recently penned his signature on two bills that have implications for New York agriculture. One is the long-overdue 2 percent assessment cap on agricultural land. According to New York Farm Bureau, "The 2 percent agricultural assessment cap has long been a priority for New York Farm Bureau. It is a big step forward in reducing the increasing property tax burden that has limited our farmers' ability to grow. It will also help young and beginning farmers as they endeavor to provide locally grown food, fuel and fiber." Of course, at least locally, assessments on agricultural land have made some downright painful jumps recently and this won't make any difference to that.
The other bill will ban so-called "canned" hunts for European wild boars. I have to say that The Associated Press story bandied about in many newspapers was quite misleading. The governor is not banning hunting of feral hogs. He is banning the practice of keeping them in fences to shoot them. I have no problem with hunting preserves myself, but when European boars, or even domestic hogs, escape, disaster follows like winter after autumn.
The laundry list of damage caused by free ranging hogs is almost limitless. They are very successful omnivores, able to reproduce at 13 months of age and to produce 1.5 litters of piglets per sow annually.
They destroy birds' nests, eating eggs and nestlings. I don't imagine this is helpful to wild turkey, grouse or pheasant populations. They catch and eat baby fawns and rabbits. They root up and eat virtually all wild growing plants, and rip up and expose the roots of trees, killing them. A single herd can rampage through agricultural crops as effectively as a bulldozer, wreaking havoc, often in a single night. They will kill pets, calves, and attack people as well.
A 2011 Reuters story said of hunting them, quoting farmer Peter Andersen, "We've shot them right square in the head and the bullet will glance off and they'll get up and go. Their skulls are so thick in the front, if you don't happen to hit it at a perfect 90 degrees, with the way their heads have that kind of curved shape, the bullet will glance right off," he said.
I am hoping entities that already own these creatures and offer hunts don't simply release them to get rid of them in the face of the new law. I also hope that pasture pig farmers are diligent with their fencing, as common domestic swine rapidly become feral and create much the same situation.
At this time the DEC lists Onondaga, Cortland, Tioga, Sullivan, Clinton and Delaware counties as areas supporting entrenched populations of the varmints. The DEC website says of hunting them, "In New York, people with a small-game hunting license may shoot and keep Eurasian boars at any time and in any number." They only ask that you report any kills so that they can keep track of the problem.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs