Grass Roots


The revolution is heading out to pasture.Terms are being hashed out for Occupy Wall Street protesters to take their counter-corporate ethos to a dairy farm in upstate New York.

Recently, a contingent of protesters commuted more than two hours from New York City to visit a site somewhere in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, which is owned by Occupy sympathizers. The Occupiers quickly realized tending the fields would require some heavy lifting.

“They have a small garden but it hasn’t been cultivated for a long time,” said Alec Higgins, 29, who splits time between England and New York City.

Higgins is returning to the farm today with more than a dozen activists who have been without permanent quarters since they were evicted from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan on Nov. 15.

The farm’s location is being kept a secret to “respect the family’s privacy.”

The 56-acre spread the family purchased in the 1980s boasts shady pine trees, an apple orchard, a farmhouse and a stable of rescued horses.

“There’s no timetable,” Higgins said. “The potential is that it could be something really, really cool for the community up there and the OWS down here. It can do a lot of good.”

Occupy Wall Street activist Ronny Nunez grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic. When he learned about the plan to use a farm upstate to breed new ideas, he was sold.

“It’s an opportunity to relax and get away from the city and de-stress from the chaos back here while building relationships with people out there and helping them out with some manual labor,” he said.

Occupy Wall Street’s “resident librarian,” J.J. Murphy, knew a long-term encampment in lower Manhattan “wasn’t sustainable,” but she’s unsure what the farm’s mission will be.

“I don’t know what I’m going to find when I get there,” she said. “Just like when I got started with [Occupy Wall Street], once I figure out where they’re putting their efforts then I can help.”

David McNerney, a 29-year-old writer who goes by the pen name Shazz Barbaric, said the move from the city to country keeps everyone guessing.

“The movement has occupied urban areas, and now we’re moving into more natural settings,” he said. “This is a different narrative than what’s come before.”

McNerney is drafting a proposal for $15,000 to launch a formal “Occupy Farms.” The group has purchased the Web domain name occupiedfarms.com, which will also be capable of accepting online donations.

The seed money would be earmarked for farm tools, beds for 50 people and outreach funds to recruit other farms in other states, including Massachusetts and Florida.

As with any money over $100, the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly would have to unanimously approve the budget.

Some voices within the movement don’t see much value in taking the message to the soil.

“What will be the symbolic importance of occupying a property that was freely given to you?” asked activist Avi Saban, 25, who was a fixture at Zuccotti Park.

The would-be agrarian protesters are meeting at the “InterOccupation Unconference” at Pace University in Manhattan on Sunday.

In upstate New York, locals are split over the protest group’s planned rural relocation.

Bill Branciforte, a carpenter from Bovina Center, N.Y., said his five children are unemployed and his wife was just laid off from her job as a nurse. But he’s not sold on the idea of Occupy Wall Street landing near Main Street.

“I think they’re a bunch of jerks,” Branciforte said. “But if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine. That’s what made this country great.”

Chris Grace, manager of Gramma O’s Restaurant in Walton, N.Y., said he’s game for a movement that echoes the spirit of the 1960s and ’70s.

“More power to the Occupiers,” he said. “I think they’re doing a good thing even though we don’t know exactly what they want.” — With additional reporting from M.L. Nestel

Ashley.Kindergan@thedaily.com
Justin.Silverman@thedaily.com
MLNestel@thedaily.com