August 1, 2007

Amy Dickinson returns

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk is extremely full today, listing a wide range of events:

  • Syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson will be presenting "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Dairy Princess: Mostly True Stories of Small Town Life", on Friday, August 10th at 7:30pm at the Dryden Village Hall. It's a fundraiser for the Southworth Library. If it's as good as her previous presentation in Freeville, I strongly recommend it!

  • Farm City Day will be Saturday, August 11th, from 11:00am to 4:00pm at Lew-Lin Farms, 433 Livermore Road. Farm City Day in 2005 was great, and I suspect this will be fun too.

  • Dryden Sertoma will be registering for the Fall Youth Soccer Program for Dryden schools' students from 9:00am to 11:00am.

  • The Intergenerational Band and Chorus - a joint Dryden-Groton production - will be performing on August 11th at 7:00pm at Groton High School and August 12th at 3:00pm at Dryden High School.

  • Mark Rust played tonight at Montgomery Park, but will be back tomorrow at Ellis Hollow Community Center at 6:30. Backtalk Band will play next Wednesday at Montgomery Park, followed by The Homegrown String Band of August 15th.

  • Southworth Library will be having its last Family Fun Night of the year on Tuesday the th at 7:00pm, with musician and puppeteer Tom Knight. In good weather, it will be on the library lawn; if it rains, it will be in the Dryden Fire Hall.

The Journal's editorial praises TC3's free tuition semester for veterans.

Posted by simon at 10:27 PM Comment

August 2, 2007

Barn beam falls, kills worker

I was driving down 13 yesterday when emergency vehicles poured down the road, swarming on 1890 Dryden Road, where it was clear someone was injured in a barn being dismantled. Alas, a 29-year-old worker was killed there when a beam dislodged and struck him.

On the opinion page, Clifford Norte of Dryden writes to complain about Dryden schools keeping school lunch prices the same while the program runs a deficit.

Posted by simon at 9:33 PM Comment

August 3, 2007

School news, crime news

It's mostly quiet in today's Journal, but School News has some bright news for Dryden residents, and the Monitor darker news. (I also forgot yesterday's Monitor.)

I do hope to be posting more here soon, and replying to email. Work's been way out of hand, including travel, and catching up hasn't been easy.

Posted by simon at 5:47 PM Comment

New York State power and authority

I know there's a New York Power Authority, but this isn't about electrical energy - it's about the concentrations of political power that New Yorkers take for granted.

New York's "Three Men in a Room" style of governance concentrates power in three people - the Governor, the State Senate Majority Leader, and the Assembly Speaker. Only one of those, the governor, is directly elected, while the other two come to their power from houses elected by gerrymandered districts, supported by rules that give them control over both the flow of legislation and the perks that other legislators receive.

It's been like that for a long time, though perhaps it got worse when the Senate and Assembly decided to let each house draw its own district lines without interference from the other. The Republican party controls the Senate, and the Democrats the Assembly, and the result has been paralysis for decades.

I was hoping that Eliot Spitzer might break that paralysis. His hard-charging style had worked as attorney general. Unfortunately, he too seems trapped - by Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver, but also by his own approach to power. In two separate scandals, we have cases where an aide threatened a Public Service Commissioner's career to get what he wanted in energy policy, and Troopergate, where aides used the State Police to find out about Senator Bruno's trips to leak it and hopefully weaken him. (Unfortunately, in this context, it gets lost that Bruno perpetually used state aircraft for purposes that have very little to do with state government.)

It seems that Spitzer has fallen headfirst into the classic Albany story: get things done by applying the power of your office by whatever means necessary. There's not a lot of interest in democracy in Albany, at least not the kind that involves public involvement in decisions, but there is a lot of interest in making things happen.

Much as I hate to say it, I have similar fears for my own party, the Democrats, when we finally take over the New York State Senate. Unless the demographics change drastically, even Joe Bruno's willingness to bend the usual rules in his favor can't last forever. At some point there will be a Democratic majority in the Senate. Will they fall into the same power trap as the Assembly and (alas) the Governor? I wish I had more faith in the system, but watching minority Senate Democrats share a party with majority Assembly Democrats (with the opposite dynamic on the Republican side) doesn't give me a lot of hope.

I'm not quite ready to give up on New York State government, but I think it's time to start looking for options that break out of the usual "seize power and make a change" story in New York. I'm not yet sure what that would be, but I'm afraid it's probably going to mean electing people willing to sacrifice their own power in favor of changing the way New York State runs. There's aren't nearly enough of those people, they're rarely politicians, and voters often don't like that storyline - but I don't see other options that are likely to work.

Posted by simon at 6:45 PM Comment

August 4, 2007


Most of the Dryden activity in today's Journal is on the editorial page. Henry Kramer of Dryden writes about possible government consolidation. While I rarely agree with Kramer, there's a lot worth considering in this article. I agree completely that we need small units of government that are closer to the people they represent. (He suggests the Ithaca School District as an overlarge entity, and I suspect he's right, but I regularly hear from people that even the Town of Dryden is too large.) I'm not as convinced about eliminating county government in the cause of reducing duplication, if only because New York State feels far too large to me for a one-size-fits-all solution. There's lots to think about though, and there's a contrasting view from David Whitmore of Ithaca too.

Also on the opinion page, Murray Cohen of Dryden suggests that part of the problem affecting sports today is the emphasis on records and statistics.

Carol Kammen writes about 1816, the "year without a summer". As George Goodrich wrote in his Centennial History of the Town of Dryden:

The year 1816 was known as the "cold season," in which nearly all of the crops were destroyed by summer frosts, and great scarcity, almost a famine, resulted. It should be borne in mind that there were no such means of transportation then as now to relieve a section where the crops had failed, and no great supply of produce was carried over from year to year.

On a personal note, I was happy to see this article on the New York State School of the Media Arts, held these days at Ithaca College. I attended it back in 1986 when it was at SUNY Buffalo, and I think what I learned there is a lot of why I write this site.

Posted by simon at 11:06 AM Comment

Youth Commission seeks 2008 programs

Kris Bennett of Tompkins County Youth Services wrote that the Dryden Youth Commission:

is seeking applications for funding for youth programs for next year (2008). This is not for recreation programs but instead for programs that help build skills and provide opportunities for youth living in Dryden.

You can see what they offered in 2007, and there's a 2006 assessment that should provide guidance for an application. There's also a cover letter explaining the application process. Applications are due by September 4th. (And all of thoses links are to small PDF files.)

And even if you're not applying, the assessment is worth contemplating.

Posted by simon at 2:31 PM Comment

A community center in the Village of Dryden?

Community center discussions in the Town of Dryden tend to polarize east-west. The west side has community centers, while the east side has schools and villages. On the east side, fire departments often provide space for community events, there's a greater sense of belonging to a place, and village governments provide another outlet for neighborhoods to get things done.

I've wondered for a while if it was really that simple, and if it was good for it to be that simple. The Village of Dryden has had some ups and downs lately, with storefronts emptying, Charlie's Diner getting in a Spitzer ad highlighting upstate decline, and the disappearance of what had briefly been a great Victorian Winter Festival. Maybe there's room to do something interesting?

I was delighted to hear from Wendy Martin, who's working with a group of Village of Dryden residents thinking about creating a community center where Charlie's Diner used to be. You can get a sense of what they have in mind by looking over their mission flyer (140KB PDF). Key points I'm glad to see include:

  • Non-profit

  • Intends to connect existing local organizations

  • Coffee shop gives people the chance to drop in anytime

  • Central location accessible to lots of pedestrians, with parking out back

  • Regular events can draw people to downtown Dryden

  • Looking for community input; planning is still getting started.

They'll be having an organizational meeting on Thursday, August 23rd, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Dryden Village Hall, 16 South Street. It would be great to see this flower! It seems achievable, and a real opportunity to build stronger community in Dryden.

Posted by simon at 2:58 PM Comment

Where to donate food?

As part of the transition to eating locally, I went through our cupboards and pulled out unopened food to give away. I'd like to give it to a food pantry, preferably a local one like the Dryden Kitchen Cupboard or the Freeville Food Pantry, but I can't find any information on how to contribute to them.

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier's page about donating food is kind of mysterious. Loaves and Fishes in downtown Ithaca is looking like my best bet, but if anyone knows how to donate to the two in Dryden, please let me know!

Posted by simon at 7:10 PM Comment

August 6, 2007

Crimes and misdemeanors

This morning's Journal has little Dryden news, except for some DWI and related charges in the Monitor.

The bigger crime news is Ithaca-focused but also mentions Cortland, so I'm guessing they drove through Dryden at times: a federal racketeering indictment against an alleged drug crew. Breaking news also has word of more drug-related convictions in Tompkins County.

Posted by simon at 5:31 PM Comment

Brief window of opportunity coming... soonish

I was a bit worried that my latest piece on New York State politics was too abstract, but NYCO nicely rescues it with an excellent piece on a strategy that might give New York State participatory politics again.

Her idea, which stems from a comment at The Albany Project, recognizes an essential but painful point in New York politics: no one with real power is willing to give up that power except those who are being forced to lose it anyway.

Read her article for the complete story, but it makes me wonder who can convince Joe Bruno to set at least some things right when he finally departs. It could be a very exciting December, in 2008 or 2010.

On a different note, Governor Spitzer has taken up blogging.

Posted by simon at 5:43 PM Comment

August 7, 2007

Walk scoring

I can't remember where I found Walk Score, but it's an interesting excercise. My house gets a 34 out of 100, while the four corners in the Village of Dryden gets a 66.

The scoring works pretty strangely in a thinly-occupied area like Dryden, but the general notion is a good one. The use of Google Maps is also pretty impressive.

(I'd be curious about what bike scores might look like. I suspect that if I absolutely had to, I could do most of my home activities with just a bicycle. Probably hard to calculate those, though.)

Posted by simon at 12:35 PM Comment

Dryden residents support Drop-In Center

The main Dryden news in today's Ithaca Journal is two letters supporting the Ithaca Drop-In Children's Center, and protesting last week's county legislature committee vote not to support it with additional funds. Christopher Lyon of Dryden and Mary-Beth Martini of Dryden both urge the county legislature to support it.

Posted by simon at 12:41 PM Comment

Starting eating local

We decided back in June to start eating locally in August. We let our supplies dwindle coming up to the end of the month, though my being in the land of Burgerville didn't help with that. We gave away our remaining non-perishable goods, and stopped buying things that weren't from New York or Pennsylvania. The farewell party Angelika's Cornell co-workers threw her left us with a lot of leftover chocolate cake, so there hasn't been a chocolate shortage until now, but that's gone and we'll likely notice the difference soon.

Some folks are even helping us out with Dryden-fresh produce.

Besemer Flats produce inside.
Besemer Flats produce inside: squash and zucchini.

Another highlight was tonight's Dryden sweet corn from Back to Basics. I definitely need to get more of that!

Fresh Dryden corn.
Fresh Dryden corn.

We've managed to borrow (!) a chest freezer and a dehydrator, so I think we'll end up well-stocked for the winter. We picked fruit at (well, Angelika really picked while I visited my parents in Corning) Little Tree Orchards over in Newfield, coming away with a huge pile of delicious tart cherries, black caps, and black raspberries. We've had some currants, and Ludgate Farms also had local currants, both red and black. The blueberries in the yard are just getting ripe now, and it looks like we'll have a better crop than we've had in a few years. We'll supplement that with more picking. I also bought three frozen chickens from a friend in Lansing, and reserved a turkey for Thanksgiving there too.

Between our own garden and local produce, it's not very hard to eat locally right now.

There are a few key things missing:

  • New York flour is sort of available, but I called New Hope Mills. The person I reached graciously went out to the mill floor to find out where their grains come from, but while they usually have New York grain, it also comes from elsewhere. I haven't managed to reach Champlain Valley during their office hours. If anyone knows of a source of New York (or PA) flour from New York (or PA) grain, please let me know. The flour milling part is less of a problem now, as we decided to invest in a small mill because...

  • So far, finding cereal grain seems to be a bigger problem. I really miss Grape-Nuts™, but we made some delicious granola in July using rolled grains - wheat, rye, spelt, oats - whose source we don't know. I've not yet found a source of rolled grain here, but it looks like we're just going to buy grain and do the "roll your own" thing with grain.

  • We're missing a key component of salads: cooking oil. I can substitute butter for a lot of things, but butter in salad just feels wrong to me. The NOFA-NY site lists a soybean oil producer I need to track down. We'll be out of our remaining open olive oil soon.

The question of "how local is local?" is a tough one. Having a Frito-Lay plant in Binghamton doesn't seem to me to make Fritos local, though maybe they'd like to talk about how many of their ingredients come from around here. Ice cream led to some tough conversations: Purity Ice Cream is made in downtown Ithaca (and is delicious), but the ingredients don't seem likely to stay local, especially the sugar. I should ask them to think about a local flavor made just from local ingredients, but I got excited enough about the question to actually make ice cream (photo gallery) from a recipe I found online. It's mostly local cream, eggs, maple syrup, and berries. (The cornstarch is leftover, but I'll find local eventually.)

We're also not worrying about organic, though organic producers do seem to do a better job of labeling where things came from. (I'm not fond of CAFOs, however, and hope to avoid their results even if they are local.)

It's also interesting to see some skepticism rising about eating locally. This New York Times op-ed (registration required) points out that there are cases where local isn't necessarily more energy-efficient. Sure - England's overworked soils can't compete with New Zealand's paradise for sheep. Growing chocolate and banana plants in greenhouses isn't likely to make sense either.

Driving inefficiencies in getting and distributing food may be higher for local food, and you can certainly burn away any energy savings in local food by driving to the far away grocery store or farmers' market too often. If you try to grow foods that aren't in season, you're also going to find yourself consuming a lot of energy.

It seems, though, like most of these problems can be avoided with a bit of common sense that our current system has encouraged us to forget. Eat foods in season, process foods you'd like to keep as energy-efficiently as you can, drive as efficiently as you can, and help build distribution networks that take advantage of whatever local economies of scale are available. It's not that it's impossible - it's just that we've spent the last century forgetting the skills needed to make that work. Part of the reason this is worthwhile is that it requires some lifestyle change to make sense, and those changes make sense too.

It's certainly interesting if at times frustrating to try to make sure you know where your food comes from. I'll have a lot more on this as we get further into it.

Posted by simon at 8:06 PM Comment

13's Fall Creek bridge 'obsolete'?

While reading the Journal's article on Route 96 repairs and being glad that I don't drive there very often, I noticed a comment directing me to a list of obsolete and structurally deficient bridges in Tompkins County.

I'm not certain, but I think this entry is missing a '66' in the Route 366, and is the bridge on Route 13 over Fall Creek between Lower Creek Road and the Route 366 intersection. (The other Fall Creek bridge on 13 is listed with "13 + 34".)

Status:O Rating:64.9 Road:13 County:TOMPKINS Feature:FALL CREEK Location:.6 MI NW JCT SH 13 & SH 3

That O means a:

functionally obsolete bridge has older design features and, while it is not unsafe for all vehicles, it cannot safely accommodate current traffic volumes, and vehicle sizes and weights.

It's not the lowest bridge rating in the county. There are two worse ones. I'll try to get more data on what that 64.9 means exactly. Its being "functionally obsolete" is part of the rating, and that may just mean that it's not considered wide enough for the traffic it carries, but the rest I'm not as sure about.

Posted by simon at 9:48 PM Comment

August 8, 2007

Bridges and food

This morning's Ithaca Journal reads a bit like an echo of this blog last night. I worried about 13's bridge over Fall Creek, and there are reports on how the state has diverted money from the highway fund for years and on the governor ordering bridge inspections, though only of those bridges with the design that failed in Minnesota. "2,206 of the state's 7,604 bridges were rated deficient last year, a consistent number over the last three years." Ouch. I wonder how that compares to other states.

I also wrote about eating locally, and Patricia Brhel writes about local food in Caroline.

Yesterday's letters about the Drop-In Center seem to have worked, with the County Legislature voting 9-5 to give the Drop-In Center $50,000, but no more, this year. They still have to find $65,000 somewhere. County Legislator Mike Hattery voted against it, as he had in committee. County Legislator Martha Robertson warned of other problems if the center should close:

If they lose their child care over night and those families can't replace it, those families lose their jobs, and we're at risk of actually being fined lots of money by the federal government for falling below the (minimum) percentage of people on public assistance who are working.

That same article notes that the county will be putting the Health Department on Brown Road in Lansing, not at the hospital or the NYSEG building as originally proposed. I suspect Trumansburg residents won't find that a big improvement over the NYSEG building, but I guess it's a few miles closer to them.

At least one recent Dryden burglary has seen arrests, for the theft of a drill from Saunders Concrete.

Posted by simon at 12:40 PM Comment

Injured kitten on 366

I dropped my car off at Varna Auto Service this morning, and Angelika and I were going to walk home with Sprocket. (Spring isn't feeling well.) We had walked up across the street from the Methodist Church when we noticed a little kitten lying in the grass. It seemed unafraid but not quite right, and when it opened its mouth there was a bit of blood.

I went back to Varna Auto Service to get the car, so we could help it, but when I returned, someone else familiar was there: Chris, husband of fellow Dryden blogger Beth, of Loxosceles. She came over a few moments later. He'd heard the kitten get hit and moved it out of the road to its current place, and called the SPCA.

Injured kitten.
Angelika petting an injured kitten along 366 in Varna.

The SPCA minivan came by, full of animal carriers, and the woman collected the little kitten who was starting to move around a bit more. She took the kitten to the SPCA, but couldn't do anything about the other two kittens we'd seen while waiting.

Angelika called the SPCA later this afternoon, and the kitten was doing well so far. It seems like Chris helping it out of the road was critical, and the kitten will now have to heal.

I'd earlier heard a complaint that students had left behind a pregnant cat at the end of the school year, and the SPCA wasn't eager to take in the kittens. I don't know if this was one of those, or if the area just has a lot of kittens.

Posted by simon at 9:02 PM Comment

August 9, 2007

Town Board meets tonight

The Dryden Town Board will be meeting tonight at the old Dryden Town Hall, 65 East Main Street, Dryden (map) at 7:00pm. One of the items on the agenda is "Discuss Moving to New Town Hall", which makes me wonder if this might be the last meeting in the old building.

Also on the agenda:

  • Appoint New Recreation Coordinator

  • Old Tuttle House Update

  • Tompkins County SPCA

  • Overview of Fall & Virgil Creek Water Monitoring

  • Fire Departments

Not on the agenda, but coming up, is the budget process for next year. Town Board member Mary Ann Sumner has posted the start of an explanation of where money came from and went to in 2007 (with graphs!) that's well worth exploring.

Hope to see you there!

Posted by simon at 8:48 AM Comment

Ringwood Road bridge closing Monday

It's already pretty hard to get from the southwest corner of the Town of Dryden to parts north, but it's about to get harder: the county will be closing a key bridge for repair on the 13th. David Makar reported it on his blog, and I know it'll make it harder for him to get to Town Hall.

Posted by simon at 5:28 PM Comment

August 10, 2007

Ask Amy visits tonight

This morning's Ithaca Journal visits Amy Dickinson, the Ask Amy advice columnist, at her home in Freeville. She'll be presenting tonight at the Dryden Village Hall to benefit the Southworth Library, though, alas, the event is sold out.

In other good Freeville news, a state grant of $3 million plus $187,000 in tax credits will help renovate the Lehigh Crossing senior-living facility. Upgrades will include elevators, accessibility improvements, and energy efficiency.

Community News reports on Dryden Ambulance winning the 2007 Central New York EMS Agency of the Year award.

The Journal's editorial reflects on the sudden interest in infrastructure caused by the Minnesota bridge collapse and how it might shift New York priorities. I wonder if they'll ever get around to printing the list of obsolete and structurally deficient bridges in Tompkins County.

Posted by simon at 8:43 AM Comment

School lunch budget problems

This week's Dryden Courier has a long article about the Dryden school lunch program's deficit. Last year's contingency budget forced benefits into the program's budget, creating problems, but there seem to be a lot of other issues as well. There are two photos of the kitchen at Freeville Elementary School, with Lonnie Boyer at work.

Also on the front page is tomorrow's Farm City Day at Lew-Lin Farms on Livermore Road. I can't make it, but I loved the 2005 Farm City Day on the Marquis Farm, and highly recommend going. It has activities for the whole family, and runs from 11:00am to 4:00pm this Saturday, August 11th.

The Courier visits budding chef Joel Whitmore of Dryden, and prints his recipes for a dry rub and barbecue sauce. They also list the winners from the recent Tompkins County 4-H Youth Fair, including a lot of Dryden residents.

Matt Cooper's Inside Dryden column reports on Amy Dickinson's coming presentation tonight. He also has an update on Beyond Measure, the Dryden High School a cappella group, notes that Sertoma soccer registration is tomorrow morning at Dryden Elementary (forms are accepted through the 18th), notes that the Intergenerational Band will perform August 12th at 3:00pm at Dryden High, and reports on an infestation of "fat, slow, green flies".

There's a photo of Douglas McVarish surveying for historical landmarks along 366 in Freeville, apparently as part of inventorying for future roadwork.

Harry Weldon's Anecdotes and Brevities column starts with concerns about the recently renovated piece of Route 13 through the Village of Dryden, where "there are big chunks of pavement that are being ground to a fine dust on a daily basis."

One final note is annoying, though it seems to be the Courier's corporate parent, the Finger Lakes Community Newspapers speaking, and not the Courier itself. In a call for contributions from readers - less kindly, "please send us material for free to keep us going" - they pause to blast blogs:

Local blogs in some areas include community event information, but blogs are not edited in any way, shape, or form, and are often wrong. Blogs also make little pretense of objectivity and therefore may ignore any particular event because they don't happen to think it is important.

Wow. Not to bash the Courier, but it's not exactly renowned for its editing prowess or its completeness. I'm very pleased with Matt Cooper's work, and enjoyed that of his predecessors, but never really thought of the Courier as complete, objective, or even (some days) necessarily correct. Apart from the historic level of editing, I'd say the same about the Ithaca Journal and Cortland Standard, so it's not like it's in bad company, but I'm not sure why a piece soliciting reader contributions needs to start with a blast against the competition.

Maybe they're concerned that the rise of self-publishing blogs will make it harder for them to get material from readers for free?

I know this blog is far from perfect, but wow.

Posted by simon at 5:34 PM Comment

August 14, 2007

SPCA reduces dog fees, changes policies

A lot happened while I was in the Adirondacks. The SPCA had a half-price dog adoption weekend, moving 13 dogs into new homes. They've also changed their policies about who can adopt dogs:

While the half-price adoption offer is temporary, Smith said adoption rules have changed since February. The former rules were too stringent, and she is urging people to give the SPCA another chance.

"We're not looking for ideal homes for pets, just good, responsible pet owners," she said.

I'd heard some complaints from people who couldn't adopt at the SPCA, so hopefully this will help address that.

I'm sorry to have missed it, but the Journal visited Farm City Day at the Lew-Lin Farmin Dryden. Mary Ann Sumner posted more of a story and photos.

At the national level, the Journal profiles Dryden's new congressman, Mike Arcuri.

The opinion pages are mostly quiet, but it's good to see a laurel from the Dryden Town Board to Dryden Ambulance for their 2007 Central New York EMS Agency of the Year award.

Posted by simon at 12:38 PM Comment

August 15, 2007

A cappella boot camp

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk reports today on Dryden High School a cappella group Beyond Measure's three days of rehearsal in the days leading up to the start of the school year. The group seems amazingly dedicated, and its continuous success since it started amazes me.

Wakeman also reports on next Thursday's Village of Dryden Community Center and Cafe meeting, which will explore the possibilities for creating a non-profit in the former Charlie's Diner, and announces the Varna Methodist Church's upcoming chicken barbecue, which will start at 4:00pm on August 25th.

A report on a lawsuit for fraudulent sales of health-care services to senior citizens notes two Dryden consumers who were allegedly bilked.

Posted by simon at 8:37 AM Comment

Local eating generates a bit of heat

Living in Dryden has thankfully been a place where cranky comments - apart from my own - are rare. I didn't expect that my local eating project would generate complaints, especially relative to some of the political positions I've taken, but somehow it seems to have struck a nerve with two local commenters.

The first, on my Starting Eating Local entry, came from "anonyman," but at least included some helpful information after a blast:

Although the orthodoxy of this 'eat local' venture seems needlessly symbolic, arbitrary, and bordering on backwards and parochial, you may as well know where to get the good stuff. For corn, that would be the Fall Creek Market on Fall Creed Rd just past Red Mill. Most fresh sweet corn is wonderful, but their varieties are particularly outstanding.

The second came in this morning, to my original post about plans to eat locally. Andrew writes:

My comment is that in my experience local produce is always always more expensive than produce from eleswhere, even in season. Your project is laudable, but my opinion is that people who get on the buy-local bandwagon are mostly a class of people who regard cost as irrelevant and unimportant. The cost difference is huge. One local peach at the farm market in my neighborhood in New York is a delicacy costing more than $1.00. This makes me mad, because I like the concept as much as anyone else, but I wish people would wake up and face reality and stop joyfully paying so much just to support an ideal. It goes against the whole concept of "market". Pardon my rant.

I'm guessing that the first comment is from someone local, and the second is from someone in New York City, but the assumptions behind them reflect paths I've rejected as I embarked on this local eating project.

To highlight a key phrase in the first comment, "bordering on backwards and parochial" is frankly more of a compliment in this context than an insult. I grew up with the broad idea that it was better to be a citizen of the world than of a particular place, understanding that progress came only from setting the ideas of the certain time or place one inhabited aside in favor of more universal understandings. Now, I'm not so sure. I no longer believe in the mythology of continuous progress - things can and often do get worse over time. "Backwards" may be the right direction to go sometimes. And "parochial" is kind of a mean word for "local". Given that I've been writing this explicitly local blog for four years, it seems unlikely that I'm going to see that as a problem. I've definitely decided that local perspectives and happenings - "parochial" or not - are worth my attention.

The second comment seems to mix up a number of concerns. First, I can see where buying local might seem hard in New York City. Community gardens aren't exactly common, suburbanization has forced agriculture further and further away, and farmers markets are kind of a late addition to New York's huge existing infrastructure for distributing food to the people who eat it. They do cost more, because farmers have to do a lot more of their own work to bring that food to market, in the absence of any other infrastructure meant to distribute local food. Some of the same concerns exist out here too.

Then there's the sort of snide part:

people who get on the buy-local bandwagon are mostly a class of people who regard cost as irrelevant and unimportant

Interpreting this less charitably, I'd say the writer hopes to suggest that "eating locally costs more money at the moment, so the people who find it interesting must be a bunch of rich snobs." Die, progressive yuppie scum! Or something like that.

The cost issue is a real problem, not to be ignored, but reducing food to the price it costs ignores a huge range of other issues. When people buy a new car, does everyone buy the cheapest car available that could possibly address their needs? Looking around, I'd have to say probably not. Do homebuyers look at their purchases as the cheapest thing they can find wherever it might be, with the maximum resale value? Occasionally, though probably not when they plan to live in the house themselves.

The cost of eating seasonally available local food appropriate to the location where it is found should be lower than the cost of importing food. That used to be true all over the country. The rules changed in the 19th and 20th century because transportation became so cheap and because economies of scale made centralized processing of standardized foodstuffs more desirable. Agriculture turned industrial, and part of that process meant chopping away the connections between growers and eaters. Local infrastructure disappeared, and local relationships vanished. Eventually it reached the point where it became difficult to buy locally, even when you wanted to do so.

I'm interested in rebuilding those relationships, and see their disappearance as an unfortunate cost of the choices we've made over the last century or so. All that information about where food came from has disappeared - though now, thanks to the strange global creation called the Internet, it's at least possible to find things again. Still not easy, but possible.

(It's also worth noting that the nature of the food itself changed to meet those transportation needs, and that local tomatoes and corn often taste a lot better because they weren't bred with long-distance transportation in mind. Local doesn't automatically mean better quality, but it certainly opens new opportunities for quality.)

The last part deserves special attention, I think:

I wish people would wake up and face reality and stop joyfully paying so much just to support an ideal. It goes against the whole concept of "market".

The concept of "market" began in a very concrete way, with people coming together to exchange goods. I have strawberries, you have eggs - let's make a deal. Cash makes it easier to make all of these deals, and these deals built on our choices eventually bring us to the point where markets can do what they do best: set prices.

I'll confess that I don't understand people who think that we should all step back and let "the market" make our choices for us. Our choices are supposed to be a key part of how markets operate. Comparative advantage explains how some places can make things more cheaply than others, but it doesn't come with a moral claim that cheap is necessarily better.

I'd much rather be an active consumer, driving the market to address the kinds of choices that I want to be able to make, than a passive consumer, just taking whatever rolls off the assembly line into my kitchen.

Posted by simon at 9:10 AM Comment

August 16, 2007

Some construction ahead

I'm hoping that there won't be too much strange chaos, but Living in Dryden will be seeing some construction over the weekend. I just upgraded the blogging engine behind it - and I'm not completely thrilled, alas, though some features seem promising.

I'm hoping to fix a lot of the weird glitchy issues the site has had thanks to its going through multiple upgrades without much attention paid toward updating the the way the site looks, so hopefully by the end of the weekend it'll be much prettier.

In the meantime, please let me know if you encounter any weird problems with the site.

Posted by simon at 11:15 AM Comment

August 17, 2007

Dryden schools superintendent moves on

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that Dryden schools superintendent Mark Crawford will be leaving Dryden to become superintendent in Hamburg, NY. Crawford, who has served as Dryden superintendent for three years, grew up in the Hamburg area and has family there. He will continue to serve in Dryden through October.

On the opinion page, there's a guest column by Stan Marcus about the "imminent major invasion of the emerald ash borer". Marcus points readers to a resource site for more information about this pretty but devastating insect, and expresses his concern that this will reach our area unless immediate cooperative action is taken. (Marcus is identified as "a member of Town of Dryden Conservation Board and Tompkins County Environmental Council", with no mention that he's running for Dryden Town Board. I'm not sure if that lack of mention is a good or a bad thing. I'll have to think about it.)

Also on the opinion page, Cindy Pataki of Freeville expresses her concern about the feral cats in the area and calls on readers to support the SPCA.

Posted by simon at 8:38 AM Comment

August 18, 2007

Storm dims lights

I came home last night to find my house without power, and apparently a lot of other people had similar problems with the weather. The night before last we'd watched a dead tree topple into our yard, so it's been an interesting few days.

The Journal has an extended piece about the costs of healthcare in Tompkins County. While it doesn't mention Dryden residents directly, I suspect we all understand what they're talking about.

On the opinion page, Darts and Laurels includes a thank you from Village of Dryden Mayor Reba Taylor to the Village Beautification Project, and a mysterious farewell from Jennie Daley, who covered Dryden for the Journal for the first few years I ran this site. (I worry that she was the last person at the Journal with any knowledge of Dryden; I guess we'll see.)

Posted by simon at 12:15 PM Comment

The Bridges of Dryden Town

I mentioned earlier that data on state highway bridges in Tompkins County didn't look great, but there wasn't any data for the rest of the bridges in town. Thanks to Capitol Confidential, I found a lot more data. This is what it looks like for Dryden:

Location Feature Carried Feature Crossed Owner Year Built/Replaced Last Inspection Status
IN ETNA COUNTY ROAD 109 TRIB FALL CREEK County 1975 10/11/2005 N
2.5 MI NE JCT SH 366 & SH 366 366 36011075 FALL CREEK NYSDOT 1932 10/16/2006 FO
IN ETNA COUNTY ROAD 109 FALL CREEK County 1960 9/12/2005 N
.6 MI NW JCT SH 13 & SH 3 13 13 36033057 FALL CREEK NYSDOT 1964 8/7/2006 FO
1.4 MI W JCT SH366 &SH355 PINCKNEY ROAD FALL CREEK County 1990 7/31/2006 N
1.6 MI NE JCT RTS 366 +13 366 366 36011066 FALL CREEK NYSDOT 1932 7/18/2005 FO

I've bolded bridges that are "functionally obsolete" (FO), meaning their design isn't adequate for the traffic they carry, and bolded and highlighted the "structurally deficient" (SD). At least one of those SD bridges, Red Mill Bridge, is closed. I believe the Ringwood Road bridge is being fixed now, as well. Some of the descriptions, especially for state highways, seem broken, but since 13 only crosses Fall Creek once in Dryden...

Also worth noting - bridges are the responsibility of the state or the county, not the town - even when the bridge involves a town road.

Posted by simon at 1:07 PM Comment

August 20, 2007

Moving down the food (processing) chain

This month, it seems like I can get most of my basic food needs around Tompkins County. It's a great time to Buy Local: Taste the Difference!, as a current campaign would have it. This weekend they had a Farm Trail Open House. While it didn't include any Dryden farms, it did include one place on the Caroline-Dryden border that produces a key food I thought I'd have to look toward Rochester to find: wheat.

The Historical Society had a booth at Judy's Day a few years ago. We had been asked to present information on wheat. We didn't think at the time that there was much wheat grown in the Town of Dryden, but as it turns out, Cayuga Pure Organics had 30 acres of hard wheat growing in a corner of the town. I just bought 50 pounds of it (for $40), while visiting them at the Open House.

Wheat at Cayuga Pure Organics.
Cleaned wheat at Cayuga Pure Organics.

It was fun to see the cleaning process in action, and I'm happy to report that the wheat I bought seems very clean, much cleaner than some other wheat I'd bought in smaller quantities.

Doing something with wheat usually means grinding it, though. Fortunately, we'd already decided to invest in a small but powerful mill, the "Family Grain Mill", which easily turned that wheat into flour with one attachment and into flakes - tasty instant hot cereal - with another. (I suspect the flour mill is the furthest-out unusual thing we'll get in our eating local project, but who knows.)

Milling whole wheat flour.
Milling whole wheat flour.

Finding wheat grown in Dryden was a pleasant surprise, vastly more local than I had expected. They'll also eventually have soft wheat, oats, and spelt, which we'll be using for more of our cooking.

I've posted a gallery of photos of our adventures with wheat, if you'd like to see more.

The main item missing from our local food collection right now is salad oil, which I'm sure we'll find soon enough!

Update: My 10-year-old bread machine made a tasty loaf of Angelika's dense bread with pumpkin seeds using this new flour.

Bread made from fresh whole wheat flour.
Bread made from fresh whole wheat flour.

Posted by simon at 7:00 AM Comment

More on healthcare

This morning's Journal doesn't have much specific to Dryden, but it does have an article on healthcare options for Tompkins County residents without health insurance, and another on state programs more generally.

Posted by simon at 12:57 PM Comment

August 21, 2007

Eight Square Schoolhouse Festival Saturday

Looking for something to do this Saturday? The History Center's Eight Square Schoolhouse Festival will run from noon to 4:00pm at the Eight Square Schoolhouse on Hanshaw Road, just south of Route 13. It's a free event with activities for both adults and children.

They'll have ice cream, music, games, storytelling, and of course the brick octagon schoolhouse itself. If you'd like to get an idea of what it looks like, I posted an article on the 2005 festival with a photo gallery.

Update: I just got a schedule via email:

12:00 - 12:45Ring the bell and raise the flag - it's time to go "back to school" in 1892!
1:00 - 3:30Musical Storytelling with Pamela Goddard
1:00 - 3:00Spinning demonstration with Susann Argetsinger
1:30 - 2:00Historic architecture tour with Rhonda Gilmore
2:00 till gonePurity ice cream social
2:15 - 4:00Music by June Apple
3:15 - 3:45Go "back to school" in 1892
Posted by simon at 12:05 PM Comment

Blood drive in Varna Friday

County Legislator Martha Robertson just sent me a note with a reminder that the American Red Cross will be holding a blood drive Friday at the Varna Community Center (map) from 1:00pm to 6:00pm.

Posted by simon at 7:17 PM Comment

August 22, 2007

School violence data released

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on the latest school violence data. Although the lead article makes a point that New York's data makes it look extremely violent because of reporting standards, an online article on discrepancies within the Ithaca school district makes it clear that the differences between Boynton and DeWitt middle schools reflect actual differences in student behavior. (DeWitt, where most Dryden residents in the Ithaca schools go, had much more violence than Boynton.)

More data is in the print edition, and complete data is available from the state, but here's an excerpt showing schools Dryden residents are likely to attend, plus Boynton Middle School for a comparison with DeWitt.

SchoolEnrollmentSex offense (no weapons)Serious assault (no weapons)Minor assault (no weapons)Intimidation, bullying (no weapons)Weapons possessionDrug use, sale, possession
Dryden Elementary587102300
Cassavant Elementary93000000
Freeville Elementary103000220
Dryden Middle4751273310
Caroline Elementary320000620
Boynton Middle645000300
DeWitt Middle56300127640
George Junior1643002100
Dryden High598200434
Ithaca High1634131027315

The County Legislature voted to extend its participation in the Recreation Partnership for five more years.

The Journal's editorial looks at the challenges of reaching everyone with health care in Tompkins County.

Posted by simon at 12:17 PM Comment

Reminder: Village of Dryden Community Cafe meeting Thursday night

I wrote about this earlier, but it seems a good idea to remind people that there will be a meeting tomorrow night about establishing a Village of Dryden Community Cafe in the former Charlie's Diner. The meeting will be at the Dryden Village Hall, 16 South Street, Dryden (map), at 7:00pm.

I hope to see you there!

Posted by simon at 12:52 PM Comment

Vegetables across the road

I wrote earlier about The Orchid Place's building a garden for squash. They've had a sign up for a few weeks, advertising veggies for sale, and over the past few weeks I've gotten to try a few tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, all quite tasty.

Veggies for sale.
Veggies for sale.

Vegetables, in person.
Vegetables, in person: tomatoes, cucumbers, and OPO and bitter squashes.

They aren't actually growing these huge volumes of squash for the neighborhood. Like the orchids, they're mainly destined for Wegmans. It's great that they sell them where they're grown though, giving people a chance to connect with food grown in their neighborhood. That big OPO squash made for a huge dinner last night, as you can see in the photo gallery, with plenty of leftovers. The cucumbers I'll eat raw. The bitter squash (white and green) is more of a challenge, though I like the idea of freezing thin slices and eating it with sugar. We'll see!

Posted by simon at 5:04 PM Comment

Eating sustainably

I was happy to see a new blog spring up in Dryden, one that reinforces probably the most important part of my eating locally project: the Sustainable Food Blog. Varna resident Beth Skwarecki has written a lot about food at Loxosceles, but on the new blog she's focusing on:

food that's grown and eaten in a way that we'd all be happy to continue forever....

Here you'll find information on everything having to do with sustainability from farm to kitchen and beyond. For example, gardening tips, recipes for healthy food with seasonal ingredients, and ways of finding your local farms and CSAs. We'll be celebratory, skeptical, and above all practical.

Update: Alas, Beth is a Varna resident no longer - she just moved to Ithaca last week.

Posted by simon at 8:51 PM Comment

Local beer, not quite

There's an article in this morning's Journal that illustrates some of the problems I've run into when thinking about what "local" food means. The Ithaca Beer Company, whose products I've always enjoyed, is going to build a silo to store malt, which comes from a supplier in Wisconsin.

Ithaca Beer certainly does its brewing locally, and sometimes (as in their Double IPA) with New York State hops, but the main body of the beer really isn't local food.

For now, Ithaca Beer isn't going to be coming home to my refrigerator. (It's not a great loss to them, since I'm drinking very little beer lately anyway.) I do look for it (and other beer brewed in New York) if I'm out someplace where I'm not bound by the local eating approach we've adopted, since it's more local than the alternatives - but I can't say it fits in a shopping basket meant to come home. (If they do brew a 100% NY/PA beer, I'll be happy to give it a try!)

Posted by simon at 9:31 PM Comment

August 23, 2007

Stone walkways

One of the more problematic features of my house has been the approaches. The front entrance has steep wooden stairs that lead mostly nowhere, though at one point there must have been a brick sidewalk. The back entrance has tilted concrete steps that originally led to mud, though I added a lot of sand and eventually flagstone. I'd bought a pallet of mixed stone from Finger Lakes Stone years ago, but mostly it just blocked a corner of the driveway, as it was too heavy to maneuver, and the stones I did place were mostly good for tripping people.

This year, thanks to Josh Dolan, our permaculture consultant, we finally fixed that. Before our wedding, he and some co-workers fixed the back sidewalk, removing the flagstone and finding another layer of flagstone buried underneath the old lawn. With those two layers, they were able to build a new walkway connecting the steps to where the mulch paths begin in our garden.

The new back walk.
The new back walk.

In early August, Josh and his crew turned to the front steps. The wooden steps come to a concrete pad, and I'd tried to add some stone, but there's a strange bump in the hillside in front of the house that's meant slips and falls for years. We were out of the convenient flagstone from the back, so they turned to the pallet of stone. An expensive but effective stone-cutting blade from Seneca Supply, just down the road, helped them turn the large blocks into the right size of blocks.

Cutting stone.
Cutting stone.

Setting the stones.
Setting the stones.

The result is amazing.

Front walkway.
Front walkway.

There's still some work to do, as this walkway only addresses the tricky part from the front door down the hill, and there isn't a path at all from the bottom step down to the driveway. We also need to see how these walkways do with frost heaves over the winter, always a challenging problem in this area.

I've posted a photo gallery of some of the construction and results.

Posted by simon at 12:22 PM Comment

All the People... are Republicans?

This morning's Ithaca Journal reported on the filing of independent petitions for local races coming this November. I didn't quite believe it when I saw "the All the People party in Dryden", but checking at the Board of Elections today, it's quite clear that the Republican candidates for Town Supervisor, Town Board, and Town Clerk filed petitions under that name.

Democrats didn't file independent petitions this time, though in the past we've used "Open Government" and "Better Dryden", which somehow seem more appropriate to me. I'd better check the latest voter registration data and see if indeed all the people are Republicans....

Posted by simon at 5:43 PM Comment

Disappearing Blanks

Today's "All the People" party name made me go back to the latest voter registration data to see what's happening in Dryden. Blank registrations fell the most, and Democratic registrations fell one more than Republican.

PartyNumber (Oct 2006)Number (Aug 2007)Change
Blank (Independent)17591684-75
Working Families3132+1

At this point in the election cycle it's not surprising to see the number of voters drop - many new people register for Presidential election years, fewer for Congressional years, and many fewer for the odd-numbered years.

Democrats retain about a 250-voter lead over Republicans, but given voter turnout, I'd guess that those two sides are still about even. The part I can't quite figure out is the 75-voter drop in "Blank" registrations, without a party, since the last time I looked at this. Anecdotally, I'd heard of more people registering Blank, but I guess I'm talking to the wrong people. That, or they registered Independence, the only party with a substantial gain.

Posted by simon at 10:40 PM Comment

August 24, 2007

Energized Dryden Community Cafe meeting

Last night I saw more positive community energy at Dryden Village Hall than I've seen at any meeting in Dryden. I'm guessing around 80 people showed up to hear what might be coming and to share ideas for a possible Community Cafe on the four corners in Dryden, at the former Charlie's Diner location.

Full room to discuss the Dryden Community Cafe
Full room to discuss the Dryden Community Cafe

Kim Schenck introduced Wendy Martin, who originated the idea and has been pushing hard to see it accomplished. Martin gave the audience a "tour" of the proposed Community Cafe, describing what it might look like to approach and walk through the place. The setting, the people, the food and coffee, and the community information seemed to materialize in the room as she described it. Next, Elsie Gutchess spoke about the kid-friendly Dryden she had moved to in 1938, about a much more vibrant downtown, and applauded the organizers for their "giant vision to put a heart back in the center of Dryden."

Wendy Martin describes the possibilities of the Dryden Community Cafe
Wendy Martin describes the possibilities of the Dryden Community Cafe

Much of the rest of the meeting was open discussion, in which probably twenty people added their comments and suggestions. This is kind of a summary of that conversation, though certainly not complete and not necessarily reflective of the direction the organizers will go on specific projects.


The Community Cafe would be at the former Charlie's Diner, at the intersection of West Main Street and Route 38. Mark Goldfarb and Bob Porteus, who own the property, will support the project with at first a minimal and later a low-cost rent. The location is accessible from the back, though some work is necessary to improve that and perhaps make the back courtyard area more attractive.


A key aspect of the Community Cafe is providing a place where people can come together and meet socially. Coffee, ice cream, and baked goods would be a key part of this, though they don't plan to ever become a full-service restaurant and would prefer not to compete with existing businesses. (Some speakers enouraged them to focus on locally-produced or roasted food and drink as well.) The Community Cafe could also host events, and would also be an information center where other Dryden organizations could present their activities.

Funds and fundraising

Apart from some equipment, the organizers are expecting to need about $2000 to get off the ground (for insurance, permits, etc.) and need to make around $1000 a month to keep the place going. The ongoing money seems likely to come from the coffee shop. Martin has been talking with the Town about their Community Center funds, and Town Board member Mary Ann Sumner attended the meeting and encouraged the group to apply for that money. There were several suggestions for musical fundraisers - band performances, "battle of the bands", a cappella shows, and more.


A key part of the conversation was around making sure that kids and teenagers find it an interesting place for after school, but that's just one part of what they hope to have in a day. Martin talked about a shifting clientele, with adults in the early afternoon, young people when school gets out, and possible events at night. That may be a bit tricky to manage, but the building can be configured to have a few different spaces, and hopefully can prove a home to a community that includes senior citizens, teenagers, young parents, old-timers, newcomers, and a wide variety of other groups.

Running the business

There were some concerns about "management by consensus" and a suggestion that perhaps the Community Center should hire a franchise coffee place. The franchise suggestion went over pretty badly, at least in the corner of the room I was in, but there was a lot more positive murmuring about the need to have a manager and possibly eventual paid employees to keep the place running when volunteers weren't available. Martin had already lined up some baristas with lots of coffee shop experience.

Legal status

With Mike Lane's help, the four original incorporators have filed with the New York State Secretary of State to become a "social organization" non-profit corporation. They're also working on getting the insurance they'll need to get this going. They can't yet accept tax-deductible contributions, but will be able to as soon as the Secretary of State approves the corporation. (They also have an address - Community Center Cafe, P.O. Box 801, Dryden, NY 13053.)

There was also some broad conversation about downtown Dryden that I think it's important to consider. Martin mentioned the Village of Groton, a place that seems to be doing very well lately. Groton's downtown is comfortable, and business seems more stable. They have a coffee shop, bars, restaurants, and stores. The other end of the Purple-Green rivalry seems to have some advantages at the moment. There was a regular current in the discussion of the need to revive downtown Dryden, and to get the four corners busy again - with foot traffic and business, not just the flow of cars and trucks.

Another conversation I liked began when Martin mentioned that Mark Goldfarb had asked her what failure would look like. She said that even if this didn't quite take off, and only lasted six months to a year, a lot of people would already have met each other in that time and made new connections. She's already made lots of connections through this project, and so have other participants. Margaret Lorentzen picked up that thread, telling of a dairy bar her sister had started to give local kids a place to go. It didn't work out as a business, but she met her husband there!

In one of the last comments, Anne Rhodes pointed out that what they were proposing was difficult but worthwhile. People spend their time in their cars, watching television, and on the Internet, and in their separate homes with little need to go out. She called for the organizers and supporters to be creative in getting people to come out of those pursuits and connect to each other as neighbors.

At the end of the meeting, people enjoyed the snacks and signed up to help.

Signing up to help
Signing up to help.

If you'd like to see a bit more of the meeting, I've posted a photo gallery.

Update: WHCU reported on last night's meeting. I was glad to see Geoff Dunn, their news director, there. I think that the Journal had someone there taking notes, so maybe we'll see a story from them too.

Posted by simon at 8:41 AM Comment

August 25, 2007

Why local?

I've had a few more questions lately about why I devote so much time to local issues. It's a reasonable question - most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about their municipality. It seems like everyone has an opinion on national politics, perhaps because the newspapers and airwaves are saturated with it, and less and less time to think about more local issues. (Perhaps everyone is staying home or in their car watching television or listening to the radio.)

I have a few reasons why I turned to local issues, and the last of them may help explain some of my more recent turn toward local food, gardening, and similar things. (Warning: this list is presented more bluntly than most things at Living in Dryden.)

National politics already gets enough attention.

Usually not the kind of attention I'd like it to get, and the conversations are often brutally polarized, but the conversations about national politics are loud and continuous. National politics seem to blot out people's attention for more local issues, and even keep people who could work together on local projects from doing so.

New York State politics is a disaster.

The Senate and the Assembly are both rigged games, thanks to gerrymandering and the concentration of power and patronage in the legislative leadership. Both major political parties are deeply tangled in the mess. Governor Spitzer's steamroller seems to have tangled itself in the Albany muck. I still have visions of what a vibrant New York State political life might look like, but usually they stay buried in despair over an utterly broken system. While New York State politics certainly needs more attention, it's hard to watch for long.

Upstate New York is home.

I grew up in Corning, and my mother's from Auburn. I don't believe there's a better place in this country to live, and I've seen a lot of it. Four real seasons may seem inconvenient to some people, but it gives us an incredible changing landscape, blessed with readily available water supplies and a complete set of opportunities to support people. I know everyone thinks "Upstate is in decline", and from a certain perspective, it is - but I see better potential for stable long-term prosperity here than anywhere else in this country.

My neighborhood - from the 13/366 overlap to "downtown" Varna - is just plain interesting.

The more I think about it, the more miraculous it seems that the Varna Community Association has been going for over fifty years, despite a neighborhood wracked with traffic and a population that comes and goes. The last four years have seen some dramatic change around the 13/366 intersection. Even as NYSEG's turned out most of the lights in their crazy fortress, two new places have appeared where I can buy vegetables, an old and decaying house has returned to vibrant life, and people seem to be recognizing that there's change in the air.

The people are fascinating, and real.

Talking about local issues almost always means talking about the concrete, and people's own hopes and fears come to the surface easily. It's not (usually) about political party or ideology, but rather about how best to get things done, and how to choose which things need to get done. The variety of perspectives is amazing, and the overlaps and crossovers in how people would like to prioritize are both marvelous and perplexing. The hard part is getting them talking.

I'm convinced that we're all going to need our immediate neighbors more in the future.

Why? Because pretty much everything that's made it easy to ignore our neighbors depends on cheap energy. I don't see much hope for thinking that energy will stay cheap, as worldwide demand is increasing much faster than supply. Some key parts of our supply may be peaking or even declining, and neither ethanol nor hydrogen will magically provide us with more cheap energy. (Nuclear energy and alternative sources may help buffer that, but "too cheap to meter" doesn't exist.) We're going to have to adjust to gasoline, natural gas, and electrical prices climbing, and will have to figure out how to economize on a lot of things that once seemed cheap.

I'm sure that last bullet will raise some eyebrows. I know plenty of good people who don't think $10 for a gallon of gas is possible, because technology will save us. I know lots of bright people think a 50-mile commute is reasonable. Perhaps craziest of all, people with strong environmental beliefs seem to move to the middle of nowhere but spend a lot of energy traveling from there rather than joining their neighborhood community.

Our neighbors aren't just part of the landscape - they're our community. People who can help us, and people we can help too. We may not agree with our neighbors, and we may sometimes not even like our neighbors, but all of us together will define what happens to the place we share. When we start thinking about people in huge numbers, it's easily to abstract away their humanity, and treat them as blocks. When we focus on people in smaller numbers, we can start to see what we have in common with them, and what we don't have in common, and work on ways to build that commonality - even when it's difficult.

Building those connections is what Living in Dryden is all about. The site itself can't create the connections among its readers - but hopefully it makes it easier for you to build those connections.

Posted by simon at 9:01 AM Comment

Contemplating smart meters

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on last night's storms, which dumped more than three inches of rain in the northern part of the county, including Lansing, Groton, and Dryden. We didn't seem to get anything here but thunder and lightning on the horizon.

The Journal also explores NYSEG's plans for smart metering, which will let consumers and the power company see how much power is being consumed and when. On the one hand, I'm suspicious of pretty much anything NYSEG does which might affect bills; on the other hand, I can see where flexible pricing might encourage people to install home solar panels if the smart-metering program allows for power to back into the grid at the same rates we pay for it to come out.

Solar panels generate a lot of power during that peak 2:00pm-5:00pm timeframe, and could help the utilities meet the power demand. A time-based system could make the payback time on solar panels shorter, and could also help reduce the need to build extra power plants to meet peak demand. We'll see...

Update: I missed this article on TC3's new athletic facilities.

Posted by simon at 10:11 AM Comment

Superintendent, intersection

This week's Dryden Courier just arrived. It reports on Dryden Schools Superintendent Mark Crawford's impending departure for his hometown of Hamburg, where he'll be taking the Superintendent's job.

There's also an article on the Lower Creek Road curve that's been a persistent problem for Etna resident Joseph Solomon. Cars crashing into the house, squealing tires... and perhaps worst of all, the drivers blasting through the curve are likely local traffic. The Town has a few ideas for fixing it, and I expect we'll see more public discussion at the Town Board.

There isn't much opinion on the Opinion page, just an editorial about hunting deer for herd management inspired by a recent VIllage of Lansing vote. They do, however, include the Dryden Fall Modified Sports schedule and note that Carolyn Edgecomb of Dryden made the Dean's List at the College of St. Rose.

Matt Cooper's Inside Dryden column explores using MySpace to sample the bands coming to Music in the Park, notes the Community Cafe meeting and Varna Methodist Church barbecue that were still to come when he wrote, and notes next month's Freeville Festival, which will be September 15th. He also reports on his recent adoption of a cat from the Tompkins County SPCA.

A report on the Village of Dryden Trustees meeting includes a concern over possible development overloading the Village's ailing sewer plant, a challenge made worse by the Village's not yet having reliable flow data. (That seems to be taking forever, at least from what I've heard at the Town Board.) Mike Lane raised the question of including Freeville in sewage plant discussions, and it sounds like there was some confusion over whether Freeville had been invited or not. He also thanked the board for providing space for Amy Dickinson's recent presentation benefiting Southworth Library, and noted that her publisher had agreed to make a donation of 1,000 books or the cash equivalent to the Library. The village also annexed some additional land along Route 13, including the A1 Restaurant.

There's also notice of an opening on the Dryden Youth Commission and a request for programming.

Posted by simon at 8:37 PM Comment

Dump truck overturns in Varna

It looks like there was a lot more excitement than is good on Mount Pleasant Road yesterday, as a gravel truck overturned when it went off the road into the old railroad bed. The driver kept the truck from crashing down into Route 366 when its brakes failed, but the photo makes it clear that it wasn't an easy stop.

The driver had minor injuries, but acting Varna Fire Chief Scott Baylor makes it clear that the driver's quick action averted a much worse possible disaster.

(I almost missed this story, which seems to have been online only in the Ithaca Journal. Many thanks to Duane Testut for pointing it out.)

Posted by simon at 11:46 PM Comment

August 27, 2007

Eight Square; storm damage

This morning's Ithaca Journal visits the Eight Square Schoolhouse festival, which I missed this year. It sounds like they had they usual fun re-acquainting people with the schoolhouse, which last served as a public school in 1941.

I have my doubts about the article's claim that this school's octagon shape had Quaker origins, as I don't see mention of it in Goodrich's description of its creation, and the only Quaker I can find mentioned in the history is over by Dryden Lake, though he was a traveling shoemaker. Goodrich notes that there were eight families involved in building it - for their 87 children! (The Octagon House, popularized by Orson Squire Fowler, didn't arrive in large numbers until the 1850s, well after the 1827 schoolhouse construction.)

Storms continued to pound Dryden and the surrounding area Saturday night after Friday's damage. We were brush-hogging out in Freeville, and I could see lightning to the south and east, on Mount Pleasant and over by the Village of Dryden. Then it started coming toward us, and fortunately we finished up and cleared out just before the rain and lightning arrived.

Fallen tree along Ed Hill Road
Fallen tree along Ed Hill Road.

Posted by simon at 12:04 PM Comment

Clearing paths through the orchard

I spent a lot of the weekend behind a brush hog, clearing paths through overgrown fields and forest.

Angelika's orchard-to-be is off Ed Hill Road north of Freeville, and it's on land that's well into the succession process. Much of it is covered in hawthorn and buckthorn, with some old pathways taking longer to grow over. We interrupted that growing with a 17 horsepower DR Field and Brush Mower rented from Cortland Rental Center over the weekend.

Angelika had already cleared the driveway with a smaller brushcutter so that we could get in and work in the main area of her planned orchard. We unloaded it from the truck (I'm very glad we rented a ramp!) and got to work.

Mowing down goldenrods and similar small stuff was easy, as was small brush. The main challenge was multiflora roses. Individual rose bushes disappeared easily, but dense thickets were hard to get through. The machine could cut them, but it took a lot of back and forth to cut the thicket without getting cut to pieces by the thorns.

Path before clearing.
Path before clearing.

Path after clearing.
Path after clearing.

I felt really powerful as I was using this crazy machine - until the thunderstorms came in Saturday night and I could see the lightning all over the south. Then I felt awfully small. When we came home and looked at an aerial photo of the site, I could see where I had been cutting, and it went a long way - but was still a tiny portion of the overall area.

Most of the orchard area is forested, but we cut some long trails through its southern meadows to make it a lot more accessible. I cut four meadows in as well to be staging areas, and we cleared a small area for a storage shed. Angelika will start work on replacing much of the light forest with more useful trees this fall, though it will be a slow process taking many years.

In a good sign, there are already apple trees scattered amidst the others.

Apples already there.
Apples already there.

Posted by simon at 12:20 PM Comment

Dryden Community Cafe launches weblog

Following up on their energized meeting last week, the Dryden Community Cafe has launched a weblog. I'm sure there will be a lot more coming there.

Posted by simon at 5:49 PM Comment

More local (food) discussion

I mentioned some skepticism about local food from the market-oriented side of the world. Lately I've been encountering more skepticism about local food and broader relocalization from a different set of critics.

On the Sustainable Tompkins mailing list, a New York Times op-ed ignited a skeptical thread about the value of emphasizing local food, and more recently there was a broader questioning of the value of localization without some kind of large-scale political movement and then a further look at relocalization as a strategy for dealing with likely difficult change ahead. I may have been too cranky when I wrote "I see more hope in the potluck or the barbecue than in the revolution," but we'll see how the world turns out.

On the Finger Lakes Permaculture list, a busy thread on the Eat-Local backlash brought up more interesting concerns, especially around grain.

Sure - there's lots of different cause for skepticism. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing!

Posted by simon at 5:53 PM Comment

August 28, 2007

Catching up to the dump truck

The print edition of this morning's Journal finally catches up to the runaway dump truck story they ran online on Friday.

It also looks like the county can likely meet its budget goal.

August 30, 2007

Youth activities starting up; Tompkins economy slows down

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk reported yesterday on scouting and youth activities. She noted that Girl Scouts had planted trees to help stabilize Virgil Creek, and both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are getting ready for more activity with the new school year. She reports on the Dryden High School Student Council's upcoming 5K Dryden Dash for Charity, which will be held September 30th as a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish foundation. She notes the Dryden Youth Commission's call for programs and for a new member, and also reports that donations to the Southworth Library book sale will be accepted until September 14th. The sale itself will run September 20th-22nd.

On page 4B of the print edition of today's Journal, Elia Kacapyr reports that July's economic activity looks bleak, with 1500-person drop in employment, even after seasonal adjustment. (I'm a little curious where those 1500 jobs were, since I don't think I've heard of many layoffs, and some new businesses have opened.) Retail sales fell a bit, airport boardings climbed a bit, building permits jumped (66%), home sales fell (25%), and help wanted advertising climbed a bit.

In breaking news, the State Business Council gives upstate, and Tompkins County an "F", something I'll talk more about later.

Posted by simon at 12:18 PM Comment

Visiting New York City

When I was in college, I learned pretty quickly that I should say I was from "beautiful Upstate New York" instead of just "New York", because the question "Which borough?" got annoying quickly. Still, I have connections to the place - I lived on the western edge of Manhattan from 1993 to 1996, and my brother lives in Brooklyn. I used to go there fairly frequently, for conferences and presentations, but it's been at least three years since I'd been there.

When Angelika needed to get her passport updated for her new last name, she visited New York for a day, taking an early bus, visiting the German consulate, and returning that evening. The passport had arrived and we needed to go to get it - both of us, with my passport - so we left the Ithaca Bus Station yesterday morning at 4:50am and returned around 9:40pm. A round trip cost $96, and we didn't have to deal with New York traffic. (By air from Ithaca to LaGuardia looks like $385.)

Lion at the New York Public Library
Lion at the New York Public Library.

We went to the consulate first, where everything went smoothly. Afterwards, we walked around Manhattan, walking through midtown to a favorite restaurant of mine, then further downtown where I'd lived, worked, and gone to graduate school.

New York City sidewalk scene
New York City sidewalk scene.

A definite highlight was lunch. The eating local rules don't apply when traveling (though we'd brought Sansa apples from Cornell Orchards), and we visited one of my favorite restaurants, the New York Kom Tang Kalbi House, on 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. 32nd Street seems to be the heart of Manhattan's Korean neighborhood, and has lots of restaurants, but I've always liked this one.

Kalbi grilling at the table
Kalbi grilling at the table.

I've posted a gallery of photos just on the restaurant if you're interested. It was an extravagance, but a delicious one. (There are Korean restaurants in Ithaca, but nothing so far as I know quite like this.)

Construction elevator, silhouetted
Construction elevator, silhouetted.

I took about 300 photos, trying to convey walking through Manhattan, kind of like I did for Montreal. That's too many for easy browsing, so here are links to some highlights:

I'll be writing more about New York City soon - less as a tourist, more as someone figuring out why Upstate doesn't work the way it used to.

Posted by simon at 5:09 PM Comment

More Simon

I suspect most Living in Dryden readers are here for the subject and not for the writer, but there are a few who seem to read several blogs I write. I just updated my personal site to combine my recent postings from various different sites into a single stream of information. If you want to keep up with what I write about technology, state politics, or Quakerism, it's all at

I can't say it's pretty yet, but it'll get there....

Posted by simon at 8:40 PM Comment

August 31, 2007

A growth shortage?

This morning's Journal reports that the Business Council of New York State's Public Policy Institute gave Tompkins County an "F" for not growing fast enough. We didn't beat the national averages in growth in the total number of jobs, average annual wages per job, total personal income, per capita personal income, or population growth. Most of upstate outside of the Hudson Valley did similarly poorly by the Business Council's standards, as growth concentrated in the New York City area.

I like a lot of Jay Gallagher's reporting on state politics, but in this article he seems content to parrot the Business Council's claims, without even asking other sources what they think.

Remember, these are the same people who publish, now apparently renamed "Knickerbocker Blog". It's basically an endless torrent of newspaper cuttings and links with commentary designed to make readers think that all we need to do is cut government, taxes, and regulation, and New York State will burst into productive flame, making everyone rich. I'm sure it's chicken soup for some people's souls, but it hardly makes me trust the Business Council.

Upstate needs to find a path that works better than the one we're on. I think - for reasons that I'll explain this weekend - that the Business Council is looking at the wrong criteria to promote the wrong agenda for Upstate New York, however. For Exhibit A in that case, I'd note that Arizona got a A+ and Vermont got a D, giving rootless and sprawling Phoenix a gold star while finding Vermont's communities just not good enough by their numbers.

The Journal adds a little bit of explanation for Tompkins County not looking as good as perhaps it should, around the issue of people who commute in for work not being counted. I'm guessing that from the Business Council's perspective it might be the difference between a D and an F, and probably not really worth arguing.

In late-breaking updates, one lane of the Ringwood Road bridge will be opening this afternoon, which should make getting home a lot easier for some people.

Posted by simon at 5:09 PM Comment