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This Land is My Land 

click to enlarge Creek Iversen, piper of Brook Farm Project, with a peck of pepper pickers, October 2013. - ERIC FRANCIS COPPOLINO
  • Eric Francis Coppolino
  • Creek Iversen, piper of Brook Farm Project, with a peck of pepper pickers, October 2013.

Editor's Note, 1/23/14: This article has been revised for accuracy.

Some people have no sense of irony.

In June of 2011, Mohonk Mountain House sold approximately 874 acres of its land to the Open Space Institute (OSI), the land preservation organization where former Mohonk Preserve board member Robert K. Anderberg is vice president and general counsel.

This transaction was part of a much lager foothills preservation initiative that’s been in the news the past few years, the stated purpose of which is to protect land close to the Shawangunks from development.

Almost immediately upon acquiring the land, OSI offered a lease to about 340 acres to an organization to which it’s closely related, called Glynwood Institute. Described by Harvard University as “one of the nation’s leading sustainable agriculture and food organizations,” it does its best to present that image.

Glynwood and OSI are funded from the same pot of gold—the Wallace Foundation, created from the profits of Reader’s Digest.

If you read Glynwood’s literature, you hear about how its mission is to encourage community-based agriculture. You’ll see pictures of horses pulling a plough, guided by young people, and greenhouses, and barns, and idyllic scenes of rural life the way things used to be.

Glynwood has plans to start up a number of farming incubator projects on the acreage it will be leasing from, all of which in theory are designed to help encourage the farmers of the future.

As it turns out, there’s already a working farm on the land that Glynwood is leasing, called the Brook Farm Project. A CSA (community-supported agriculture project), it’s been there for 10 years. After making many improvements to the land and farmhouse over the past decade, Brook Farm is a thriving community that by some miracle broke even in the 2013 growing season.

Glywnwood, for all its ideals, plans to commence its relationship to the community by kicking out an actual organic, community-supported farm run by young people—the very thing it says that it supports. In June, Brook Farm Project was informed by OSI, in the person of Robert Anderberg, that it would be shut down.

Brook Farm is a source of food for New Paltz families, a place for people interested in farming to work the land, and a place to meet others who have bonded into an extended family. Its farm stand near The Bakery in New Paltz had become a friendly summertime fixture.

A community meeting called by the Friends of the Brook Farm Project was held in October, which packed Deyo Hall with people concerned about the conduct of local land trusts and the closely related Glynwood Institute.

Among the facts that came out: Brook Farm takes up just 20 acres of the 323 acres that Glynwood will be leasing. Unless there’s some huge divergence in mission, values or purpose, one would think that the two projects could coexist in a mutually productive way. Three hundred and twenty-three acres is more land than most local farmers can imagine, and is just one part of Glynwood’s land holdings.

Before I go any further, I have a question. How come every time I write an article mentioning OSI and the name Robert Anderberg, someone else is getting kicked out of their home or off of their land? Is this some coincidence, or is there a pattern?

At the October 2 community meeting in support of Brook Farm, a man named Guy Jones, an organic farmer, told this story. Seven years ago, Anderberg approached Jones, saying OSI wanted a working farmer on a tract of land in Orange County that the organization was willing to sell to him.

“Farming is all we do for a living,” he said, knowing he would be the perfect tenant. But he was still skeptical. He said OSI came on like a buddy and persuaded him to take the offer—$300,000 for 110 acres, and they would hold the mortgage. “At closing they banged me for another 100 grand plus a mandatory donation,” Jones said to the group of 75 Brook Farm supporters. Still, Jones became OSI’s poster child for organic farming, even appearing on the cover of the organization’s annual report.

OSI sold Jones a balloon mortgage, meaning that he would make interest payments, then pay off the principal at the end of the mortgage. When the balloon payment came due two years ago, Hurricane Irene struck and Jones lost $250,000 worth of crops in the flooding.

Despite the obvious hardship, OSI would not renegotiate the mortgage, Jones explained. “They said ‘Give us all the money or get the fuck out’. They wouldn’t even talk. I owed them the last month’s interest and I was hoping to wrap that into a new mortgage. But they foreclosed and then they sued me for the last month’s interest.”

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  • Eric Francis Coppolino describes ethics of land preservation and New Paltz’s Brook Farm Project.

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