By Dan Hust
FERNDALE One heck of a surprise guest appeared at Sunday’s “Farm to Market Connection” seminar in Ferndale.
Michael Lang, the most visible part of the team that brought the Woodstock festival to Bethel in 1969, stood in front of the crowd of farmers to briefly promote the locally-founded group Farmhearts.
“I first came to Sullivan County 42 years ago looking for a farm,” he related with that famously unique charm.
The irony did not end there. After all, he was speaking inside the CVI Building, built and owned by Alan Gerry, the man who purchased the Woodstock site and created the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts next to it.
So what’s the Ulster County resident doing back here?
“I have a long-term tie to Sullivan County and the farms here,” he related in an interview with the Democrat.
Through his interest in joining the anti-fracking effort regarding potential gas drilling in the region, Lang learned of North Branch Inn owner Victoria Lesser and Callicoon resident Mark Ruffalo’s push to create something to fill the economic void forcing farmers to sign gas leases.
That group of western Sullivan County residents is known as Farmhearts, based, said Lesser, on the heartfelt determination needed to be successful in local agriculture.
Through an auction that included bidding for a trip to Ruffalo’s next movie set (where he’s playing Dr. Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk), Farmhearts raised enough funds to present a check to the Farm to Market Connection organizers on Sunday.
The $12,000 will fund a fellowship for Sonia Persichilli, who’ll work with the Farm to Market and Watershed Agricultural Council staff to seek out and cultivate new farmers.
Lang is happy to lend his name and support to such an effort.
“I look at it as an aid to their [farmers’] business aspirations,” he explained of his desire to help change the ag business model “to something economically sound.”
Noting a growing market for organic fruits, vegetables and meats, he sees Farmhearts as guiding farmers to better ways of growing, distributing and marketing their products.
“We moved up here because of our love for the land,” noted founder Lesser, “and we realized that if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food.”
Lesser and the volunteer crew of Farmhearts which is currently under the umbrella of the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development hope also to impress on non-farmers that “cheap food is just that.”
“We have the potential to be a think tank and then the facilitators,” she told the crowd.
Farmhearts is currently expanding its one-page website, www.farmhearts.org. Watch the Democrat, too, for an upcoming story detailing the group’s formation, goals and events.
A story on the Farm to Market Connection seminar itself will appear in Friday’s edition.