Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Garden State

My little farm is tucked away at the very southernmost end of New Jersey. Our area is still mostly agricultural, a tiny pocket of green in the most densely populated state in the Union. My husband's family lives in northern New Jersey. During the holiday season we always end up making the trek north to see them. We usually take the Turnpike to get there.

The Turnpike is a Jersey icon. It's the major artery through the state, cutting straight through the middle. Travelling the Turnpike will give you a pretty accurate slice of what life in the Garden State is really like. Over the eleven years we've been making this annual journey up the Turnpike there have been a lot of changes. At first it was mainly farmland up until you hit the middle of the state. Slowly, inexorably, some of the farms were sold off and housing developments sprang up. But there were still a lot of farms. This year I noticed that construction is under way to widen the Turnpike. I'm not entirely against that, the Turnpike is always congested with traffic. But, I was sad to see that many of the farms I have enjoyed seeing as we drive up are being swallowed by the construction project.

I saw one barn still standing right on the edge of where the new, widened road will run. At one time it must have housed some twenty horses, but now it stands empty. An empty barn is sad thing to me. I couldn't help but imagine the horses it must have housed at one time. Were they race horses? Jumpers? Maybe even dressage horses. It doesn't really matter what they did. They existed, they served us and they enriched our lives. And now their barn, once filled with the warmth of their bodies, their smell, their sounds.... their barn stands empty and cold along side the Turnpike.

It seems like that's happening all over America. The rural lifestyle is disappearing, swallowed up by townhouses and shopping malls. We Americans live in a culture where agriculture is a luxury, not a necessity. Again, that's not necessarily bad thing. We certainly don't have to deal with the problems that our rural ancestors did. Our food is plentiful and easy to obtain. We aren't slaves to the weather and seasons. But, while our lives improve, are we losing touch with our heritage?

That empty barn made me very sad, but at the same time thankful. I am glad to have horses in my life. I am glad to be a part of preserving horsemanship for the future. Because that's what we are doing, those of us who choose to have horses in our life. We are preserving an important part of our cultural heritage for future generations.

Through us, the knowledge of horses and horsemanship will pass on to future generations.


  1. Great point of view. I am totally using that next time my husband complains about the money my horses cost. I don't see that much living in IN. That is pretty much all there is, miles and miles of corn fields. That is acually a big reason I love it here. It is almost like keeping a slower pace of life alive.

  2. This seems to happen everywhere, even here in Nova Scotia. Thanks for pointing it out. It's a concern. There are ways to both develop and preserve farmland (my training is in land use planning), but they are politically difficult.

  3. Ah, the NJ Turnpike. I can actually see it from my pasture as it's about a quarter mile away. When you hit the warehouse district near 8A, you are about four miles from my house. There is a big huge turquoise lake on your left as you are heading north and that's the sandpit across the way.

    I've been battling the destruction of farmland around here for going on ten years. All those warehouses were once prime farmland. The huge Forsgate Farms dairy farm was one of the first to fall.

    But, after you pass the big lake, there is a section of just over a mile on the left that is preserved farmland. The first is part of the Pigeon Swamp State Park, and just beyond is the Van Dyke Farm we worked for 6 years to save from development. It's not thousands of acres, but something I hope we'll be able to cherish in years to come.

    Obviously, you've hit on a topic close to my heart. I am in total agreement and appreciate your perceptive post.

  4. Interesting that you say that Farming is a luxury. I think that good quality agriculture is not a luxury, it is rare indeed to find good vegetables that are not over-loaded with pesticdes/herbicides etc ... or hormones free meat. I now only buy organic chicken, once a week/10 days because of teh price, and red meat from Ireland again once a week/ 10 days, because the price is prohibitive O_o But it is worth every penny.

    One of my best friends (the young lady who looked after my mare this summer) told me that at her last trip to the USA she stopped eating because the food looked so fake and full additives.

    It is funny perhaps over the pond we are fussier with our food ? Boh? Don't know?

  5. Muriel- Most of the food produced in in America is grown/raised on big "factory" style farms. Even more of our food is grown in other countries and shipped here. I just looked through my kitchen and most everything there had been raised outside the U.S. On one hand, it's nice to have fresh peppers, apples and tomatoes in January, but they don't taste nearly as good as the ones I grow myself in my garden. And my chickens and eggs are far superior in taste to anything in a store, even those labeled "organic".

    In NJ, having more than one acre of land is considered a huge luxury because of the price of land and property taxes. Thus, very few people here have gardens and they certainly don't raise livestock. My rural lifestyle is actually considered quite luxurious by most of my peers....... if they only knew!


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