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Trailer Talk's Frack Talk: Why Food and Fuel Shouldn't Mix -- A Farmer Speaks Out On the Dangers of Fracking

Farmer Greg Swartz talks about trying to maintain an organic farm in the face of increasing gas drilling in rural Pennsylvania.

The threat to our local farms throughout the country is epidemic. The threat to farms in the Catskills and the Delaware River Basin in upstate New York and Pennsylvania is at the center of the debate with the Delaware River Basin Commission and its most recent controversy with Exxon-Mobil.

Farmer Greg Swartz (the former director of NOFA-NY) of Willow Wisp Organic Farm grows vegetables in Abrahamsville, Penn. in the Damascus Township just four miles from the bridge over the Delaware River (designated one of the country's most endangered rivers due to proposed drilling). Swartz's growing season is burgeoning, with lettuce, arugula, sorrel, green garlic and radishes in his greenhouses, and fields planted with carrots, potatoes, cabbages, kale, beets, onions and much more to be shared locally as part of the Willow Wisp CSA and at farmers markets throughout the region.

Still, Swartz and his wife, Tannis Kowlachuk, discussed almost two years ago the possibility of leaving. "Our belief in farming as a good business opportunity is there but our faith in the future of that business is being rattled because of natural gas drilling," he said. This threat to farming puts at risk national security by threatening the local production of food; it is destabilizing the long-term economies in the fracking zones and industrializing rural areas. "Because gas production is extremely short-term, what happens to an area when gas production stops?" Swartz asks.

The Delaware River Valley is a place of immense beauty, with bald eagle breeding grounds, blue herons flying overhead, fishermen and recreational activities centered around the Delaware River and a weekly farmers market in the Callicoon Creek Park in Callicoon, NY, where hundreds gather on Sundays. The community efforts to build a local economy are blossoming even in the face of gas drilling and the specter of fracking. On the trip to Willow Wisp Farm, a drive of about 45 minutes from my home in Liberty, New York, there are many farms and much open space, in addition to a natural gas drilling test well I passed on my way to the farm.

Greg Swartz states emphatically that natural gas drilling and farming cannot co-exist, as they are antagonistic land uses. 
Swartz and I spoke last night and he said, "There is a severe risk to the quality and quantity of water, there is a severe risk to the health and purity of the soil and there is also a risk to animal agriculture with the industrialization of the landscape."

He went on to say that, "It's a weird thing to do, farming in the face of such a threat, because the way we farm is about the long-term not the short-term, investing in the soil, the ecosystem, and ensuring diversity. We're growing and selling produce now, but much of what we do is the long-view and because of natural gas drilling that future is hazy. We're waiting on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to decide on their gas drilling regulations."

In the Damascus Township where Greg lives and farms, the majority of the residents have not leased their land for drilling, but 85 percent of the land is leased by 32 percent of the population. Just up the road from Willow Wisp Farm is that "exploratory" well I passed on the way to his farm that is owned by the Woodland Management Partners, an investment group. It was drilled last summer and is on hold until DRBC makes its decision about whether or not to allow gas extraction in the watershed. So this debate of gas drilling is a debate about private property rights, too, and about the United States Constitution, as drilling is exposing a situation where a private decision based on property rights can adversely impact and infringe upon not only upon the rights of another property owner and his business but the entire community, now and in the future.

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