Tag Archive: rural


Once we turn south onto National Road 4 near Léogâne, west of Port-au-Prince, the scenery changes quickly and dramatically. Soon, we leave the coastal plain, the roadside hawkers, the trash piles, the heat and humidity, and begin the sinuous ascent up into the mountains that bisect the southern peninsula east to west. Despite the near-ubiquity of deforestation, the scenery turns dramatic, verdant, vertiginous, lovely. The one road snakes its way along cliff sides and through narrow gaps, twisting and turning, bending to the natural terrain.

Along the way, we see a couple of quarries, but little industry otherwise. Lots of small farms. Goats tied to trees or posts along the side of the road. The occasional slim horse on a narrow plateau above the road. Schools, new houses, being built by various NGOs. We ask ourselves silently, then later discuss, why so many rural Haïtians would flee the countryside for the pollution and crowding of the city when they could grow their own food up here, where the climate and scenery and environment seem more favorable to a decent life.

One in our group points out, however, that the only agriculture to be had, at least in the current economic situation in Haïti, is subsistence farming. No trade means no money, which means no way to pay for necessities, for health care, for schooling for children, for gasoline, etc. This is somewhat speculative, I think, as we don’t really understand what works and what doesn’t work in Haïti, nor how and why, but it seems like a reasonable explanation.

The distance from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel on the south coast is short as the crow flies, but long on this serpentine highway. Washouts from Hurricane Sandy (in which as many Haïtians died as Americans, from a much smaller population) or other rainstorms have narrowed the road in places, and a stop-off at our partner church in the mountains means that we are over four hours in reaching Jacmel. As we descend the road on the south side of the mountains, the temperature rises, the humidity presses in, and so does the more obvious urban poverty we left behind a few hours earlier. The characters alongside the road through Jacmel to the east, where we hope to stay, look much like those in Port-au-Prince, selling tissue packets and bars of soap and all manner of other goods.

Previous visitors from St. Paul and the Redeemer stayed at Cyvadier Plage Hôtel, a few miles east of the city, and after bouncing down the rutted, almost nonexistent access road toward the hotel, we are all relieved to climb out of the dusty SUVs in the shaded parking lot. Here is a level of refinement I never expected to find in Haïti: manicured gardens around a swimming pool with fountain effect, outdoor drinking and dining spots overlooking the kind of cove we dream about flipping through the glossy New York Times travel magazine.

The manager, a handsome, young, tanned Swiss man, speaks with a sultry accent, and gives us the options, none of which is adequate, even for those of us (me?) willing to forego air conditioning for the sights here (!); there just aren’t enough rooms available for our group of six, including our pleasant, funny Haïtian driver, Ronald. While our group leader navigates the limited options, I use the few idle minutes to send messages home, not knowing when I’d have wireless service again.

Although we need to seek other lodging options, we stay for lunch, sip rum punches and enjoy a variety of seafood dishes made with locally-caught fish and shellfish. Sad to go, we pile back into the SUVs and continue east on the road to another Swiss-owned beach property, Hotel Kabic Beach Club. The owner is a soft-spoken septuagenarian German Swiss man with two dogs and a very pleasant staff of locals. The hotel is clean and modern without outdoor dining and chaises-longues scattered around the front lawn overlooking the Caribbean across the road, but it’s no Cyvadier. After checking in, a couple of us wander a few yards up the road to a path to the beach. The water is stereotypically warm and refreshing. I am surprised to see, when I look back at the shore from the water, the humble dwellings hard on the beach. Where in the Caribbean can you live on so little, yet waddle out of bed right into the waters of paradise? Two young Haïtian guys run a seafood restaurant right there at the beach and hope we’ll dine there. One of them at least speaks reasonable English. I want to support him, but we are warned that these local places may not always sell all of the day’s catch, and may lack proper refrigeration. Fear of food poisoning slightly edges out my desire to support two enterprising locals. I agree to dine at the hotel. Both nights, seafood with a side of guilt.

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Chicago Has No Hills

Turbine, Crow Hill, Bouckville, NYFriday 6 July 2012

I biked to Madison and Bouckville this morning. Those of you who know Hamilton and surroundings have figured out that I’m a pretty lame biker; rarely do I ride more than 20 miles in one go. It’s not because I can’t, but rather because I have many things on my bucket list, especially for the finite hours I have in Central New York. I hate to spend too much time away from the fam. If Mom or Dad or Christopher or Putney would ride with me, then athletic sight-seeing could be a social activity, and I wouldn’t fear missing funny happenings back at the Tanner Mansion.

While riding yesterday, I noticed a road out of Bouckville, Crow Hill, that I had never been up, so I checked it out, and learned that it would make a good and hilly 18.5-mile loop. I was going to leave at 6:30 AM, but it was 55 degrees outside, requiring a long-sleeve jersey to start, and then after a while I might be too warm. I headed out into a perfect morning when the temperature hit 60º.

Hamilton is in the Chenango Valley; from home, it is uphill almost everywhere. The climbs on this route aren’t steep or large, but Crow Hill is prominent. On the way up, I passed a small farm with a surprisingly large diversity of species: donkeys, goats, geese, ducks, chickens. When was the last time I saw a donkey on a farm? I couldn’t remember.

Crow Hill has attracted the wind energy business. Up there in the farm fields are several turbines, over 300 feet tall. The New York Times reported a few years ago on a huge wind farm on Tug Hill. Some neighbors complained about the noise of the windmills. Atop Crow Hill, I stopped to listen, and barely heard anything. On the plus side aesthetically, the slow, silent spinning of the huge blades evokes a Zen-like calm. The down side is that the towers are so huge that they make mature trees and the area’s grand hills look like the topographic equivalent of toy poodles.

I saw only one person while up on the hill, driving. Biking in vacant areas makes it easier to find solitude. Biking in vacant urban areas can sometimes lead to a hold-up at gun-point followed by being chopped up into bite-size pieces and tossed in the river. This morning’s fresh-air pee is a perk of rural living.

Chicago has no hills. A parishioner at my new church job who regularly walks several miles around Hyde Park commented on the hill at South 47th Street on the Lakefront Trail. I said nothing, because I really like this woman, who is also from the East (where there are real hills), but that “hill” (the approach to the pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive) is about 30 feet high.

My legs, too, have been forgetting what’s required to gain elevation. Today’s ride is the reminder that, while here, I need to climb hills. Lest legs forget.

Meet My Farmer

Adam Perrin wants to be your farmer.

Hello. I'm Adam Perrin & I Want to Be Your Farmer.

Two seasons ago, I bought a dozen eggs at the Hamilton (NY) Farmer’s Market (held on Saturdays and now in its 36th year), for export to Takoma Park, where our Farmers Market’s eggs are always sold out by the time I arrive after church, if I can even get to the market before the 2 PM closing bell. Sunday morning markets are great for Seventh-Day Adventists, thick on the ground in Takoma Park; Roman Catholics, with their Saturday Option; Jews; Muslims; Wiccans; Atheists; Occasional Churchgoers… but not for your garden-variety Professional (read: paid) Protestant, who has to be there every week from before dawn (most of the year, now that Daylight Savings Time has become a farcical eight-month extravaganza, Thank You, George W. Bush and your Republican-controlled Congress and your Skanky Bedmates: Lobbyists for Movie Theaters and Shopping Malls and Big Box Stores, but I don’t want to use up all my blog ideas in one article) through the lunch hour, and on toward mid-afternoon. I opened the paper carton (remember my eggs?) and was taken aback, delighted by subtle color variations among the dozen individuals before me. Each egg was unique; together, they cast a tawny rainbow.

Last year, during another of my too-infrequent visits to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market (and to my homeland), I stopped at Quarry Brook Farms’ stand, and was again dazzled by a dozen beautiful eggs, this time artfully, enticingly displayed. I told the tall, thin, bearded young man working the booth that I had previously bought his eggs, and had gotten particular joy out of looking at them, almost to the point of not wanting to eat them. His response was quiet, laconic. (Maybe he thought I was some effete city boy who viewed food as art more than sustenance? Go figure.) He spoke in the local rural accent, the one that first intrigued me, years ago: how can people who live so close to each other, and who interact so much, possess such different inflections? I picked up his business card, and eggs, and moved on through the Market.

Back in Maryland, I visited Quarry Brook Farms’ website <http://quarrybrookfarms.com/&gt;, where I found out that Adam Perrin wants to be my farmer. I was pleased to meet online a young, articulate (if a bit taciturn in person) heir to a family farm in our area, who is working to change the terms of family farming in Central New York, an area full of struggling dairy farms, abandoned pastures and hope in short supply for the future of the industry and the culture. Pro-fracking signs seem to be more common on the grassy verge of a farm field than anywhere else in the region.

Around the start of Lent, my partner, who’s work has taken him deep into the difficult history of the Holocaust, began reading a troubling book called “Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust” (by Charles Patterson, ), and was moved to keep vegetarian for Lent, later continuing on well past Easter. I returned again to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market in late May, and, drawn back to Adam’s stand by my vivid memory of the beautiful eggs and his website, found myself caught in the collision between supporting Adam’s commitment to organic, humanely raised livestock (by buying some meat) and my ethical failure of eating any meat at all. I took the “low road”, and bought some veal, of all things; Adam cautioned that this wasn’t like supermarket veal, that it wouldn’t be as tender or mild-flavored, that the calves were pastured with their mothers and treated humanely. He said that each year, the cows produced more young than he could keep, and, rather than ship them off to be raised and butchered in the cruel, industrial way, he held onto them until the end of the season, giving them the best short life they could have.

But I was still troubled. Back in Maryland again, I e-mailed Adam to ask if, during another trip home, he would meet with me and talk about ethical farming.