Imagine you live on an urban lot just over an acre and you’ve been reading up on how to grow your own food; you’ve studied the copious numbers of urban homesteading books in your local library and joined too many online forums to remember all your login IDs. You’ve dabbled with a garden, and even raised some chickens, but want to become a little more self-sufficient. Maybe you get some bees and raise a beef cow every year for the freezer; or maybe it’s some goats or a dairy cow to make soaps and cheeses. Of course you need a small shed to house your rototiller and other garden implements, and if you live in a colder climate you are going to want a shed or small barn to house your animals in the winter months; naturally, you tuck those structures to the corners of the property, out of the way and unnoticeable. By no means are you an expert homesteader, but you are learning, so when your town votes in favor of food sovereignty, you are curious at first, but when you learn that it allows farmers to sell farm products from their homes or farms without state intervention (think inspections, raw milk, etc.) you’re pretty excited.
Being allowed to sell some of your products, you decided to go in even deeper with your dairy production and start delving into meat rabbits. It is tough to turn a profit, but you are learning, and you’ve started to trade goods with the other urban homesteading ilk in town. Because you are on a smaller lot, you don’t have room to grow your own hay or other treats for your livestock, so you have built a relationship with a local farmer that get’s you a 25% discount on your hay, but you have to help on the farm two Saturday’s a month. It is work you would rather be doing on your homestead, but you have gleaned a lot of first hand knowledge and you get a monetary discount.
Now, imagine that you wake up one morning and find that 65 people in your town of 4,700 voted by raising their hands to outlaw essentially all farm animals except for hens and rabbits, and even then, you can have no more than twelve which makes keeping animals for meat a near impossibility. Your cozy barn that housed your chickens on one side and rototiller on the other that you put in the back corner has to be moved; outbuildings housing livestock or poultry within 15 feet of property lines, and 100 feet of a neighbors dwelling are now illegal. Now imagine that anyone previously homesteading on an urban lot 1.5 acres or smaller is not grandfathered into the new restrictions. All of the sudden, you have to sell your animals, the equipment you used to make cheese and yogurt has to be sold at a significantly lower price than when you first acquired it. You have lost money on equipment, you have lost income on goods you can no longer sell, and you have had to part ways with animals that you love and care for like a family pet. The farmer you were helping loses direct income and valuable labor. The local hardware store where you buy your fencing and other supplies no longer sees your business.
Now know that on June 11, 2018 this is actually what happened in the Town of Madison, Maine when the town held is annual meeting to do whatever it is that gets done at town meetings; however, at this fateful town meeting, where around 1% of the town population showed up, a vote was taken to outlaw backyard farming and a majority voted in favor by show of hands. The vote was not well publicized. There were no billboards or lawn signs sprinkled throughout the former mill town. In fact, it was not a hot topic for debate among angry neighbors caught up in farm fury. Many residents did not even know it was an issue. Resident Ann Harsh found out about the vote two days after it happened when a friend informed her of the new rules in town. Even according to the town manager, Tim Curtis the vote did not seem thought our or well planned; in fact, it is almost as if they voted on a whim. When asked how many individuals this new ruling would effect, he answered: “We don’t have a number. We never really went that level of detail in looking at it.”
It would seem that this new ruling counteracts the earlier decision by the town to declare itself food sovereign: to allow farmers to sell goods without government meddling. Curtis, does not see it like that. In fact, he said, “We never intended to do anything anti-farming” and “It was never the Select Boards intent to hurt small farms.” It is hard to make rational sense of that statement considering that the Select Board just passed a law banning farming on lots smaller than 1.5 acres. It would seem that the Select Board passed a rule that directly limits small farms.
At the heart of it, we have two issues, the first, private property rights. These individuals own their land, and now a publicly funded government is telling them what they can and cannot do with it. If this were a private housing authority in which all members signed a contract before moving in, one could understand how an ordinance like this might be acceptable, but in a publicly run town that is in essence owned by the tax-paying public, this is absolutely absurd, but unfortunately, not unheard of.
The second issue lies around the idea of voting. Many hardcore liberty minded folks will tell you that voting is force, and while a lot of people may scoff, this is perfect illustration of that force. A majority of 1% of the population voted in favor of something, and now a rule is being forced upon 4,700 town residents. Tell me how that is not force? On the other hand, living in the Statist Utopia that we do, this shows why voting to protect the individuals right of property and association is of great importance. The State will not dry up and go away because people don’t vote, rather they will continue to pass rulings just like this and the will of 1% will be used to dictate the lives of the other 99%.
Thanks to Lloyd Cowan for allowing me to use the picture of his animals and to Ann Harsh for giving me time out of her day to talk about the present situation in Madison.
The general consensus is that the environment needs protection; that man kind, gone unchecked will destroy the natural world, use all it’s resources and be left to live on a dusty ball of rubbish. We are then led to believe that the only way to protect the environment and all it’s natural beauty – and keep humanity safe for eternity – is through regulation and laws passed down from the State. While I do think the natural world has some intrinsic value, it is not through State dictation through laws and regulations that this value be implied or protected; rather, that protection should come through private property rights.
If you are not aware, a good chunk of Northern New York is made up of the Adirondack National Park, a 6.1 million acre park that includes the Adirondack Mountain Range, over 10,000 lakes, and 30,000 miles of streams and rivers. Nearly half of the acreage is privately owned, but is under heavy restrictions placed by the Adirondack Park Agency, the other half is owned by the state. This means that there is a great infrastructure of roads running in and out of the park for both local residents and tourists looking to hike, canoe, ski, or otherwise enjoy the natural world that the park provides.
As you can imagine, winters in Northern New York can be rather daunting, especially the higher elevations in the mountains: there is ice, snow, steep slopes, billowing winds, curving roads, sub-zero temperatures, and, of course, people. In an attempt to melt the snow and ice and keep travelers safe, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) plasters the roads with salt. During the off seasons, the salt is stored in massive piles, most of the time in a giant dome shaped salt barn, but there are some piles that are left exposed to the elements year round.
In the 1970s, the National Wildlife Federation called out the use of salt to melt ice on roads as being potentially harmful to the environment, and as it would turn out, they were partially correct. According to Dan Kelting, an Environmental Sciences professor at Paul Smith’s College, New York State began using heavy doses of road salt in the 1980s and in the time that has passed, NYS has used over 7 million tons of salt on the road.1 The salt melts the ice, gets washed away by rain, pushed into the ditches by snow plows, and eventually finds its way into lakes, rivers, streams, and ground water, where it causes problems for both nature and humans.
Salt is a naturally occurring mineral that is often added to foods (sometimes in great quantities) to enhance flavors. It is also a necessary mineral to our basic survival as human beings; however, when too much salt is introduced to the diet, there are a number of health concerns that can rise, including: hypertension, stroke, and heart disease to name a few. Of course, no one is saying the general salt contamination in well water from salting the roads is so bad that it can cause these diseases (in some houses though, the well water is no longer potable), but individuals who suffer from hypertension – aka: high blood pressure – or who may have already suffered a heart attack or heart disease, that would need to monitor their sodium intake may unknowingly consume too much salt in their water and risk future health problems.
The Current State Monopoly Approach
The amount of salt in the ground water also causes secondary health effects. If you have lived in a place where they salt the roads, you will recall seeing a white minerally buildup on the rocker panels of your vehicle. You will also notice that once your vehicle starts to rust, it spreads quickly. This is from the salt on the roads, and why you wash your car more in the winter, than in the summer. What’s happening is that salt is a corrosive agent; it is corroding the metal parts of the vehicle and breaking them down, this same thing happens to water pipes, and unfortunately, many older pipes contain harmful substances such as lead. So when the salt water starts to corrode pipes, it also begins to release lead, and other harmful substances contained in the pipes. (This is essentially what happened in Flint, MI.) Not only does this cause secondary health effects, but it also adds undue infrastructure stress on both public and private water systems as well as any appliances that utilize the water, as parts tend to wear out sooner and need replacement earlier than expected.
While run-off may add to the salt contamination issue, the main source of salt contamination comes from the salt barns – where they store the salt. As you can imagine, a big pile of concentrated salt will slowly seep into the ground from the rain and humidity. And this is where we are today. It has happened in a few towns – notably Orleans, NY – that the salt has seeped into the ground water and has wreaked such havoc on the infrastructure that the town water systems need to be replaced.2,3 This replacing also comes with a very high price tag in the millions, sometimes exceeding $10 million.
In a number of Northern New York towns, the state has come in and cleaned up the mess, laying down new waterlines, however, this cost is passed on to residents – both directly and indirectly – for example in Palmelia, NY, the DOT laid new pipe along route 342, but by then many homeowners had already spent thousands replacing appliances and plumbing fixtures in their own homes, and on top of that, these homeowners were required by the state to pay an additional water bill of $2500 to cover capital costs of the project.4 In the town of Orleans, where the project was estimated to cost $13 million, the town received a $100,000 grant from the state and an $11 million interest free loan, but it wasn’t enough to cover the project and residents were left with the option of covering the $1.9 million difference by adding an extra $1000 a year to their water bill. Don’t forget, the $11 million would eventually have to be paid back – by taxpayers funding the town. In the situation with Orleans, despite numerous studies tracing salt concentrations back to the salt barn, the DOT does not claim responsibility for the contamination. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time this happens, but par the course, State led pollution is usually kept quiet and the State seldom takes responsibility. In the case of many towns in Northern New York, even when officials have accepted blame for contamination, officials have gone so far as to say that the contamination of a private well is a problem for the well owner, not the State.
To make this even more disturbing, consider where the funding for the $11 million interest free loan and the $100,000 state grant came from: the tax payers of New York. And don’t forget, NYS DOT receives federal funds ear marked for particular projects, so essentially, the loan money, and the grant money are coming from every single tax payer in the country.
It seems a bit convoluted, but broken down it goes like this:
A State run monopoly with required membership enforced by the State, and funded by tax-payers creates an environmental health problem. The State run monopoly then loans tax-payers their own money to fix the problem. It then forces residents to pay an extra fee for the new work.
There is no winning when you sue a tax-payer funded organization, you are in essence suing yourself.
A More Minarchist Approach
If we look to the free market and more liberty-centered solutions we will find that there are a few different options we can follow. The first is just smaller government. The NYS DOT is a state wide organization. They consider all state highways their jurisdiction and treat them accordingly. When we examine the facts, however, most of the small towns in the Adirondack park don’t actually use salt. Instead they use sand. Now sand doesn’t clear the roads down to pavement, but it also doesn’t effect the water table as drastically. (It may cause some siltation in rivers and streams, but that seems the lesser of two evils when compared to salinization.) Local towns also use sand instead of salt, because it is cheaper and they don’t have the massive tax base that New York State does. In fact, New York State uses 2.5 times more salt on the roads than local municipalities do.5
When a small town creates an environment of toxicity for both private individuals and businesses, it is easy enough to pick up and move locations, but remain in close proximity to jobs, family, and friends. The State has very little vested interest in where their citizens go as a move out of state is much less likely than a move from one town to another (moves within the same country are twice as likely as moves between counties, let alone States.6) Consider the economics of a person moving from a town of 200 versus a state of 20 million; just based on a percentage of tax-base alone, a person is much more valuable to a small town than the state, likewise the incentive of a small town to keep citizens is much higher than that of the state.
A Slightly More Anarchistic Approach
We can also look at this from a more drastic lens and consider that the roads be privatized. It sounds scary, but it makes sense, and it keeps everyone healthier. If the roads were privatized, and owned by a third party, it would be up to the third-party to keep the roads clean. Undoubtedly, they would want to keep their roads clean of snow and ice to ensure safe travel and happy customers. In order to do so, they could utilize the current State model and use copious amounts of salt, but as we’ve seen in many instances above, salt gets into the ground water and contaminates wells. Unlike the State, which has unlimited funds to repair damage, a third-party’s resources are limited. There are many examples of private corporations being held responsible for environmental pollution, when GE contaminated the Hudson, they were forced to pay for clean up, a third-party that owned the roads and subsequently contaminated the ground water would be held responsible for clean up and rectification. Restaurants and businesses that couldn’t afford to constantly replace appliances and in turn left towns in Northern New York, could recoup costs from the third-party responsible for the contamination, stay in their local residence and continue to build the economy. A third-party would know this and out of necessity, go out of their way not to contaminate their surroundings and would either come up with a better way to store the salt, or they would come up with another way to clean the roads.
A third-party would also be solely responsible for storing the salt. In some towns, residents did not want to build covered salt barns, surely an uncovered mound of salt will contaminate more ground water than a roofed salt barn, but as it was a publicly run entity, the residents made the choice to leave the salt uncovered. If a private entity was responsible for containing the salt, the public would have no choice in how it was stored and, in looking out for their best interest, the private entity would cover the salt.
The difference between the State and private corporation is competition. The State has no competition, and there is no limit to their funds. When they damage private property, they are seldom held accountable and when they are held accountable, the damage costs are just another line item on next years budget that every tax-payer will have to answer for, this is not the case for a private corporation. Rather, quite the opposite. Private corporations funds are limited by their resources. Imagine how shareholders would react if a company kept going over budget every year and just increased product pricing in an attempt to cover the difference. That company wouldn’t last very long. The State also has a monopoly on competition. Sure, there are elections every few years, but in 2016 “when voters cast ballots for state representatives [last fall], millions of Americans essentially had no choice: In 42 percent of all such elections, candidates faced no major party opponents.”7 This lack of competition does not exist in the private sector, as soon as another company sees an opportunity to step in and make some money, they will and the competition can drive prices down and increase quality of goods and services. It is shameful that residents of Northern New York do not have the ability to make these choices to help keep their lives safer and the environment healthier, and it is even more shameful that it seems a fairly standard practice that State level politicians would suggest contamination on their behalf is the responsibility of the private property owner.
Some days in the spring, I find myself wanting the dead heat of a Georgian summer to
keep me locked up inside, not because I particularly enjoy having cause to take a shower after walking from the house to the car, or because I enjoy paying an obnoxiously higher electricity bill for powering the air conditioning units, but because there is a lull. During fall, we keep busy with the fall crops, give the lawn a final mow and try to enjoy the relatively cooler weather as we drift toward the winter solstice. Winter is a time for bucking firewood, amending the sleeping soil, digging holes for future fruit trees, and trying to harvest some venison before the whirlwind that is spring comes tornado-ing in.
Once spring arrives, there is no slowing down, and this spring has been exceptionally busy. In part because we keep expanding the garden and trying to get more crops in, in part because there are more mouths to feed and more obligatory places to be, but mostly because of the rain. Don’t get me wrong, the rain is usually a good thing in Middle-Georgia,but where as I typically have to mow the lawn once every three weeks, it’s been an every other week ordeal (if not more than that), weeding the garden has been virtually non-stop, and the damp weather has kept the beans from germinating as healthily as they should, leaving them susceptible to aphids and cutworms and other unsavory pests. But we have prevailed. The rain may not be over, but it is slowing and the temperatures are climbing into the mid-90s during the days and evening temperatures hovering right around 70; it seems as if summer is here and the lull is beginning.
When things start to slow down we have time to enjoy the sunrises bouncing off the clouds, waking up the bees, eliciting the edamame to show their dainty purple petals and enticing the big showy squash flowers to open for pollination. We have time to sit on the porch, lingering under the fans after dinner, watching the barn swallows swoop in and out of the corn patch as they catch the Lovebugs mating mid-flight. Summer brings the end of school and friends who can stay a little later.
Of course, just because there is a lull doesn’t mean all work cessates. There are still plenty of chores that need to be done outside in the heat. The lawn still needs the occasional mow, the crops harvested and the animals fed. You can do it in the cool of the morning, but it’s still 70 and muggy as anything you’ve ever experienced and as soon as the sun rises it’s width over the horizon, the temperature starts climbing. The trick is enjoying the time you have to appreciate it all.