This Land is My Land: The Story of Brook Farm CSA

With the first frost approaching, Creek Iversen and a bunch of students from SUNY New Paltz about to go picking peppers on an autumn afternoon at Brook Farm. Photo by Eric Francis.

Dear Friend and Reader:

Some people have no sense of irony.

In June 2011, Mohonk Mountain House, a high-end hotel in New Paltz, NY, 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. Planet Waves readers have heard of Anderberg before — he’s the mastermind behind attempts to illegally claim large swaths of the Grandmother Land, where I take many photos, and put it into the hands of land conservancies.

This transaction is part of a much larger foothills preservation initiative by land conservation organizations 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. When you study the plans, however, it can start to feel like the region is being raided by land conservancies who intend to acquire every square inch they can get their hands on, by any means necessary.

Working at Brook Farm CSA, October 2013. Photo by Eric Francis.

Almost immediately upon acquiring the land, OSI offered a lease to about 323 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, a favorite magazine of Middle America. Another interesting fact: OSI even owns the land where Glynwood’s headquarters is located, demonstrating OSI’s influence over Glynwood on the decisions you’re about to read about.

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. Their webpages and brochures are public relations masterpieces, appealing to the “back to the land” spirit of prospective donors to the organization.

Glynwood has plans to start up a number of farming incubator projects on the acreage it will be leasing from OSI (there is a rumor that this will be a 99-year lease, though I could not confirm that) all of which in theory are designed to help encourage the farmers of the future, in a controlled, almost academic environment rather than how it’s usually taught — through a form of apprenticeship.

As it turns out, there’s already a working farm on the land that Glynwood is leasing, called the Brook Farm Project. An actual organic 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.

Organic farmer Guy Jones tells Brook Farm supporters the story of how his farm was foreclosed on by Open Space Institute (OSI) when he could not make a mortgage payment after Hurricane Irene. Then they ‘flipped’ the property. Photo by Eric Francis.

In June, Brook Farm Project was informed by OSI, in the person of Robert Anderberg, that it would be shut down. Glynwood, for all its widely-advertised 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.

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 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, off of their land or being sued to have their property taken from them? Is this some coincidence, or is there a pattern?

At the Oct. 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.

Photo by Eric Francis.

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,” needlessly forcing him off his land at a considerable financial loss.

“Then they resold the property. They flipped it. They sold it for $400,000 cash.”

“These guys are bullies,” Jones warned the supporters of Brook Farm Project, referring to OSI.  “They’re not nice people and they’re not going to negotiate. They’ve got the title and they’re just going to drive it. They don’t need to listen to anyone.”

That much is true. Brook Farm organizers say they have been left out of all the significant discussions, and that OSI and Glynwood officials have refused to attend their meetings. The heads of OSI and Glynwood did not reply to emails sent to them for comment in this article.

Creek Iversen, who runs the farm, was put under a gag order by OSI officials, which led to the resignations of three Brook Farm board members in protest — gardening columnist Lee Reich, Culinary Institute instructor Rich Vergili, and Dan Getman, a local attorney.

“Recently, the board has not functioned as a board should — by consensus or majority rule,” they wrote in a resignation letter signed by all three.

Brook Farmers Creek Iversen and Lisa Mitten. Photo by Eric Francis.

“Each of us also wishes to dissociate ourselves from the recent joint public statement released by BFP [Brook Farm Project], OSI, and Glynwood, as well as from statements made to Creek Iversen dictating his activities apart from the work for which he was hired. Neither of these activities were authorized by the board though they purported to be issued under that authority. And they contravened the board’s instructions. We cannot be part of a board that is treated in this way.”

Those involved with Brook Farm and the organizations supporting it say that Anderberg is directly involved in calling the shots, as general counsel of Open Space Institute.

In August, Planet Waves reported on a lawsuit that exposed how Anderberg, who serves as a land-acquisition agent for Mohonk, devised a scheme to purchase land from someone who the State Supreme Court ultimately determined did not own it. After securing a false deed, Mohonk then sued the rightful owners, Karen Pardini and Michael Fink, trying to legitimize its title. The courts rejected the effort, affirming Pardini and Fink as the actual owners.

I also reported how Anderberg, representing a land conservancy, once purchased a nonexistent interest in land from a former owner, then the conservancy tried to sue Pardini and Fink to take the land. That effort, too, was rejected by the State Supreme Court, which held that Pardini and Fink could bring a fraud lawsuit against the people who had done this to them.

More recently, I reported the well-known story of Louise Haviland, who in the 1980s owned land adjacent to the Mohonk Preserve. Anderberg personally purchased her mortgage from its holder, and after he did so, took advantage of a provision allowing him to call in the note — that is, to demand that Haviland pay him back all at once.

Last watermelon of the year at Brook Farm. Photo by Eric Francis.

When she could not do that, Anderberg brought a foreclosure action against her and her tenants, ultimately taking possession of the land and selling it to Mohonk, which is often the beneficiary of OSI transactions.

Honest land preservation involves a willing seller or donor — not someone from whom land is unwillingly taken. OSI and Mohonk supporters overlook these transgressions, arguing for how much good the organizations allegedly do protecting land from development.

Nobody is contesting that Glynwood Institute and OSI have a right to choose their own tenant. No evidence shows that any of the land transactions involved in Brook Farm have been illegal, though I have not personally studied the deed record. Many locals have noted that as land coms off the tax rolls and is placed in the hands of conservancies, residents of the towns involved end up paying their share of the tax burden. That would be reasonable if the organizations really were acting in the public interest.

The common thread is about the illusion of something versus the underlying reality. The illusion perpetuated by Mohonk and OSI is that they are good neighbors and stewards, not land-grabbers. They go out of their way to perpetuate that image. Glynwood kicking Brook Farm off the land it’s occupied for 10 years challenges the illusion that Glynwood supports community agriculture or plans to help “incubate” young farmers.

The three organizations involved — Mohonk, OSI and Glynwood — seem to be playing a shell game with accountability for this action. For example, in a series of public statements, Glenn Hoagland, the executive director of the Mohonk Preserve, assured the New Paltz community that Brook Farm Project would be left alone.

In early 2012, The Oracle student newspaper at SUNY New Paltz covered the foothills acquisition project and reported that, “Hoagland confirmed that the Brook Farm CSA will continue leasing property.”

The last squashes of the fall harvest, too small to sell but not too small to eat. Photo by Eric Francis.

In 2011, he told The Gunk Journal, “No major changes to the use of the land are contemplated, we would opt for what we call ‘mixed use’ conservation. That would mean a combination of public use of the lands, where possible, scientific research, educational work with schools and colleges, and the continuation of the present-day sustainable farming at Brook Farm.”

He made similar reassurances at a meeting earlier this year where Mohonk was seeking approval of the New Paltz Town Board on a state grant that would help with its acquisition of the foothills land — Brook Farm would stay where it is.

The problem here is that Hoagland is not in a position to make these statements about Brook Farm. Mohonk is managing a large tract of OSI’s land, though the property that Brook Farm currently occupies will be under the control of Glynwood Institute.

Perhaps Hoagland was mistaken, or maybe his statements were designed to reassure the community that Brook Farm, something it loves and cares about, would be left alone. He has said the same thing many times, and it turns out not to be true.

At the Oct. 2 community meeting about Brook Farm, Mohonk Preserve sent the chairman of its board of directors, Ron Knapp, to represent the Preserve. (Nobody from OSI or Glynwood attended; presumably Knapp was their guy in the room.) After listening to community members vehemently express their concerns about land trusts for three hours running, he stunned the room by asking people to make donations to the Preserve so that it could raise $2 million and purchase land from OSI. That is what I said, and I saw it with my own eyes: at the end of the meeting, Knapp tried to get a little cash out of a bunch of people trying to save the CSA that he was helping crush. Had I not been there, I might not have believed it.

Creek Iversen teaches New Paltz students the basics of food production at Brook Farm CSA. Photo by Eric Francis.

The next weekend, Brook Farm Project held a concert and festival to build public support for its plight to stay on the land. Pete Seeger was on the schedule.

Twice, Glynwood Institute officials tried to talk him out of performing at the event. Yes, they contacted the 94-year-old singer, who has stood up for every imaginable progressive cause for the past 75 years, and tried to persuade him not to support the Brook Farm Project. As I said — some people have no sense of irony.

Tom O’Dowd is a former member of the board of directors of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an environmental organization founded by Seeger. He wrote to Seeger on Oct. 3 and pleaded with him not to “join the unfortunate bashing of OSI, Glynwood, and Mohonk Preserve.”

The lobbying efforts didn’t work. Seeger performed as planned. Members of his organization were confused because they didn’t notice any bashing going on, just some young people trying to save their farm from green-coated agribusiness.

“I have not seen my father so pleased with an afternoon of music in a long time,” his daughter Tinya Seeger wrote to Brook Farm Project’s leadership. “The afternoon was such a relief for him. He loved seeing so many local singing young people and is enthusiastically in support of all of you.”

Many people in New Paltz and the surrounding towns feel the same way. The ball is now in Glynwood’s and OSI’s court — let’s see if they do the right thing.


Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for November 2013, 
standing in for weekly #972 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — Your plans may unfold more slowly than you were expecting, as if you’re living in a parallel world where time runs at half-speed. This is not only necessary; it will be helpful. Typically you run so fast you don’t look back to reflect on where you’ve arrived. Then the movement itself becomes the thing to do for its own sake, which happens not to be for your sake. The purpose is some form of healing, rest and repair. It would be a good idea to seek out someone’s assistance, or to notice who is in your environment — most likely a professional and not a friend or relative — and willing to assist with your healing mission. One other purpose of taking work, projects and social activities slower is so that you can place your focus on what appears to be a significant transition in a personal relationship. Your astrology describes this both as a release point and as an opening; as the invocation of a limit and your ability to surpass a previous blockage. This relates directly to your healing path, and though you cannot control the outcome, you can influence it in a positive way by being attentive to your own needs and always taking responsibility for what you can do to improve the situation, starting with yourself. No matter what it may seem, ultimately your life is not about anyone but you.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Driving is a metaphor for life. Notice the road conditions at all times, make sure you’re in good shape to be behind the wheel, and most important, stay in your lane. You might also want to keep track of whether you’re coming or going. I know that’s a funny old expression that few people think about, but I do mean knowing whether you’re going toward something or away from it; whether you’re approaching or avoiding, and why. The approach/avoid thing seems to involve something you’re simultaneously trying to remember and to forget. The astrological syntax translates to, “Question your mother’s logic about sex.” I think when questioning the teaching of our parents or of anyone, it helps to extend their logic and see where it would take you if you went the whole distance with it. You are likely to find that it’s not even vaguely suited to guide you through where you are in your most intimate relationships. That logic, such as it is, was shattered a long time ago, though you may still be maintaining some loyalty to it. In truth you’re at an absolutely unique crossroads in your life, and you may feel you have to make a huge decision right now. I don’t think that is true. Where there is a commitment, it has already been made. Where one is lacking, that much will be obvious.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Do you feel like you’re trying to pass some kind of psychic kidney stone? Thankfully, unlike the physical body, the spiritual body has the ability to process large ‘objects’ in a way that doesn’t force them through tiny openings. Indeed, however large this thing you need to purge yourself of is, you have the ability to move it along and send it on its way. Your astrology can be illustrated with some ideas from homeopathy, a branch of medicine more people deserve to know about. When it works, homeopathy seems like magic, and compared to other forms of medicine, there’s relatively little the patient has to endure. But two things are necessary. The price of admission to homeopathic healing is admission — revealing to the practitioner what you’re experiencing, in intimate detail. That translates to revealing something to yourself, with scrupulous honesty, ongoing, never satisfied that you’re reached the bottom. The second qualification of homeopathy is the healing crisis — in releasing old pain, it must come to the surface. Going through that consciously is a necessary prerequisite to feeling good and being healthy. Honesty and awareness — perhaps the two things most lacking in our world now, and the fact that they’re missing is one of the most prevalent causes of sickness. What passes for healing is usually denial and suppression of the symptoms. You’re ready for the real thing.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Has the whole sex thing been a little weird, whether mired in karma, needlessly complex or seemingly nonexistent? You may find the topic annoying and wish it would go away, or feeling some deep need, wishing something would actually happen. Count yourself lucky if you’re experiencing this on the level of “you can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need” — though where sex is concerned, that’s pretty boring. By sex, I mean both the experience and the relationships in which it occurs, the agreements involved and what is exchanged. Saturn has been in Scorpio, your solar 5th house, for a year, and it’s leading you to be more careful, or putting the brakes on your adventures. At the same time, Saturn points us in the direction of authentic necessity and always gives more than it takes away. You have reached a kind of crux point on whatever it is that you’re going through; events of the next few weeks are likely to come with a bold transformation, and to reveal the deeper contents of your feelings. The essence of Saturn in this area of your chart is about taking total responsibility for your sexuality and for what you exchange with others. Mercury retrograde is about finding the intersection of your fantasies and your reality. The eclipse is the catalyst that starts the reaction — and an X factor.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — The central question of this month’s solar eclipse is safety — when and where you feel grounded and confident of your environment. While this may seem to be about having a dry roof, food to eat and dependable companionship, the question quickly slips into how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism is one of the most direct pathways into feeling threatened or unpleasantly vulnerable. Often self-critique is projected onto others, which is designed to vent pressure. However, projecting it onto a relationship turns out to be just as painful. How safe you feel reflects how much you like yourself. If you feel unsafe in your environment for direct reasons you can document, that, too, may be a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Whatever may be the case, you are in a phase where you can take some giant steps toward learning about self-esteem. The planets are aligned perfectly so you may learn from the mistakes of others. We live in a time in history when the way most products are sold is to make people feel inadequate. Legions of manipulation artists are paid an ocean of money to ‘educate’ us how horrid we allegedly are, and charge us money to feel better. Often we try to con ourselves using similar means. It does not work. If you think you need a reason to feel good about yourself, I suggest you go deeper.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — You stand to benefit significantly from all manner of weird events that unfold over the next month or so. It may not seem that way, though I suggest the best strategy is to maintain your independence and stay out of the fray — until you notice that it’s the perfect time to make your move. The way the astrology looks, that’s going to be in the later innings; let the adventures, misadventures, games and dramas develop for a while, as you pull back and get the wide view. This is another way of saying maintain your independence, which may feel like being antisocial. What is currently passing for social among certain people you know isn’t exactly social, either — the more congenial mode (in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead) is to ‘take a step back/take another step back’. Give people space to be themselves, and give yourself space to be yourself. Perspective is everything. Observe the action from all angles. Yes, there are several ways to read the astrology indicating how personally you could take things, but you’ll feel silly if you take things personally and then discover in the end that it had nothing to do with you. Meanwhile — be optimistic. My dog-friend Jonah is a Virgo and whenever there’s any activity in the kitchen, he’s standing there wagging his tail. I would call that faithful expectancy.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — There is a cosmic feeling to your charts right now, as if you encounter some spiritual intervention that helps you work out an emotional knot you’ve been carrying around nearly forever. The way the picture looks, you’ve been drawn with increasing intensity to focus on a group of issues that seemed daunting and even impossible to address, not knowing how you would do it. Yet at a certain point, you seem to have suspended doubt, and then soon after that, you seem to have made a commitment to yourself. That was akin to the choice to make an investment in yourself. The thing with an investment is that it’s never a sure thing. You have to put up a lot of energy (in various forms, including emotions and money) before you get a return. Then, that return might be something entirely different than you are expecting (which seems to hold true for both business investments and for deeply personal ones). It looks like something is about to come to fruition. I will say this, however: the die is not cast. Your imagination will have an influence, though when you go there, you may experience some fear. Consider that fear a psychological response to the expression of your potential power. If you feel guilt, consider that direct evidence that you’re moving in the right direction — that of claiming your value, your personal power, your resources and your independence.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Scorpio has a reputation for being the sign of jealousy. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood emotions, that goes along with Scorpio being one of the most misunderstood signs. You seem to have been grappling with jealousy lately, whether your own or that of someone else. It doesn’t matter which; you would need to address it in either case, and the same awareness is called for. Jealousy has two main components — attachment and control. That differentiates it from envy, which is about wanting what someone else has. Underneath this is a spiritual struggle that’s about to come to a head. If you find yourself feeling especially strong emotions, including the desire to control anyone in any form, pause and notice what’s going on beneath the tempest. Don’t be distracted by the surface layer or cast of characters. The real subject matter is between you and existence, or said another way, what you encounter walking that fine line between existence and non-existence. Below the drama is the sensation of how close to the edge you walk, all the time. Think of the turbulence as a fear reaction, though it’s worth questioning: what exactly are you scared of, and in the spirit of the Serenity Prayer, what exactly can you do about it? There may not be answers to these questions, but the cosmos of your psyche has some relevant information for you.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You seem to be working through the whole love vs. fear thing — that there are two emotions, and that all other feelings and sensations emerge from one or the other. One does not cancel the other out or compensate for the other; there really is a choice. However, you may be getting the occasional torrent of fear that obscures the love you’re feeling. There’s a potential lure to the fear in that it’s blended with passion, potentially sexual passion. It may reach into some of your deepest, darkest desires, yet at the core is a form of anxiety. I’ve been studying this one with my spiritual teacher Elisa Novick: it’s a tricky one. The love, alternately, has a cosmic feeling to it, and may feel disembodied or impersonal; that may seem to contradict your desire to go for the physical and the embodied, though you still have that option open to you. The ‘choice between fear and love’ may manifest as the option to build on one foundation or the other. If you thought of it in those terms, the choice would be easy. You may be wondering where the fear will go, if you choose to place the home known as your soul on love. There’s a vent opening up, through which fear or any other negative emotion can be returned to the universe as unconditioned energy — liberating you in the process.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) –You may not feel like the flavor of the month, but if you refuse to be swayed by group opinion, you’ll discover how much respect people have for you. At the same time you’ll discover a new depth of self-respect. This word — respect — means to see again. There’s a re-evaluation implied, with the result being seeing something that you hadn’t seen before. This lends some credence to the idea that respect can be earned or gained as people get to know one another, or get to know themselves. And there is the hint that it may take some time for that to happen, especially if your ruling planet Saturn is involved in the equation (which it is). Therefore, allow some time to pass, during which there may be a bit of confusion, mixed or missed messages, and a little competition for a niche. Remember, though, that your niche is all your own — the thing you do that nobody else can do; the gift you have that is yours alone, and which you may discover in the process of offering it to others. As you move through this territory, just make sure that you don’t con yourself into coming to any ‘final’ conclusions about who you are, what you do or what you have to offer. Make room for a discovery process — there’s plenty to discover.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — I’ve often pondered the phrase ‘authority issues’. One definition is not knowing one’s place in the order of things. The result can be attempting to act with greater influence than one has, or with far less. We see manifestations of both in our society, and the particularly toxic equation of those on a power trip acting out on those on a powerlessness trip. Noticing this dynamic may convince you that you want to get out of the game entirely. True authority begins with your relationship to yourself. It becomes real the moment you recognize that no other person can dictate that relationship, no matter how hard they try and regardless of what happened in the past. This month’s solar eclipse is a reminder to be on the lookout for what you might call ‘shadow figures’ from the past who you’ve internalized. They may boss you around and attempt to tell you who you are and how to feel about yourself. One attribute of finding your authority will be taking back your consciousness from hijacking by these inner voices. The first step in this process is recognizing that they are not you. They may seem convincing but really, if you listen carefully, you will be able to hear the difference. Then you’ll be able to feel the difference, in the form of feeling a lot better about yourself.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — It is amazing how the division between that which is erotic and that which is spiritual is so successfully pushed as a political agenda. Perhaps it’s even more astounding that it still works. I reckon it’ll work for as long as people feel misgivings about themselves. It will work for as long as sex and/or some form of allegedly spiritual idea are accepted as ways to gain power over people — and people are willing to give that power away. You’ve reached a point in your growth where this is simply untenable. Rather than trying to dismantle the power trip, I suggest you focus on the essentially spiritual beauty of pleasure, be it of body, of soul, of the emotions, of nature or all of the above. This is not a matter of theory — it’s about appreciating your existence and recognizing as birthrights feeling good, feeling open and being able to share yourself. It’s easy to let yourself be distracted by those preaching hellfire, including its more subtle form as guilt. Consider the extent to which, if you ever experience these things, they are an inheritance from previous generations. Those who passed them on to you lacked your knowledge, your freedom and your appreciation of life. They were more subject to superstition and had fewer resources available. Simply put, they were not you, right now, living the life you are living.

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