Growing the Movement

the daily

HAMDEN, N.Y. — For a growing subset of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the future is in pitchforks, not picket signs.

An Occupy subgroup known as Occupy Farms is working at a plant nursery in Southampton, Mass., and a farmer who raises chicken, pigs and vegetables in East Calais, Vt., is preparing for the arrival of a group of protesters-turned-farmers who have volunteered. The latest incarnation of the movement is taking place a four-hour drive from where the anticorporate demonstrations started in lower Manhattan — and the pastoral setting may as well be another planet.

The Daily tracked down a small group of Occupiers who have been quietly trickling north this week to assess whether they can turn a 56-acre property in Hamden, N.Y., into a sustainable farm and rural retreat — complete with babbling brook, a three-story barn and rescued horses and dogs roaming the property.

“This won’t be a place to protest,” said Mark Wood, who has lived on the former dairy farm with his partner, Dawn Thomson, for 27 years. “It’ll be a place to protest for.”

Wood and Thomson, who support the Occupy movement, volunteered to let the protesters use their land to grow crops and regroup away from New York City. Wilson Chang, an Occupy Farms member who has worked on farms for several years and is helping to coordinate the effort, said the hope is to create a source of sustainable food for the movement, as well as a place where members can go to decompress.

Neither the property owners nor the Occupiers were eager to talk, partly because the project is still in the early planning stages.

“We’re just doing a lot of planning and coordinating and getting the right skill sets to get the ball rolling,” Chang said.

The farm’s start is contingent on winning approval for seed money from the movement’s General Assembly, which makes decision by consensus. The group has asked for $15,000.

Occupy Farms is now a dedicated group on the General Assembly’s website. As The Daily first reported yesterday, it has purchased the domain name to serve as their portal and collect donations.

Many in Hamden haven’t heard of the plans, but the news didn’t raise eyebrows.

“I wouldn’t mind at all if they have a place for a garden,” said Lois Rausch, 74. “It makes sense. They have to eat. They can’t eat out of garbage cans in New York City.”

Dairy farmer Doug Merrill said it is difficult to grow vegetables in the area’s rocky topsoil. Many farms in Hamden and surrounding towns have been bought up for environmental preservation, since the area is within the New York City watershed, Merrill said.

The Occupiers may even find themselves in demand. Holly Giles, an owner of Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden, said she agrees with the cause and would welcome Occupiers at her organic vegetable farm.

“We’re poor farmers and we’re struggling,” Giles said. ”If they want to work, we could find them something to do.”

Meanwhile, three Occupy Wall Street activists arrived several days ago at Tripple Brook Farms, a plant nursery in Southampton, Mass., to volunteer their labor for farmer Stephen Breyer. The farm mostly raises native species of flowers and fruits, but the protesters plan to harvest perennial vegetables and take them to other farms in hopes of creating a sustainable food source that could feed the movement in New York City.

Breyer said he has already put the Occupiers to work storing plants for the winter and cleaning up greenhouses.

“I am in complete philosophical agreement with aspects of the movement,” Breyer said. “But I am mostly grateful for the help.”

In East Calais, Vt., Emily Curtis-Murphy, said she plans to host about 10 Occupy Wall Street diehards who will spend the winter in a couple of unheated bedrooms at her Fair Food Farm. During the summer, she said, she will be able to handle ”bigger groups.“

In exchange for help building a greenhouse and animal shelters, Curtis-Murphy said she would give the Occupiers some piglets, which they could butcher within six to eight months. Beyond the home-cooked meals and goods, Curtis-Murphy said the protesters will learn the basics of farm business planning.

“They’re going to need to be financially self-sufficient and figure out how to make a profit to put back into the farm,” she said.

Asked if she had any concerns that some volunteers might not be as handy or willing as others, Curtis-Murphy said she is realistic about her new laborers’ skills.

“They’re coming up all the way from the city,” she said. “We’ll find something that everybody is good at.”

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